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When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's an Idol

American Idol came to Buffalo this weekend, with a twist.

The show featured three finalists, four local musicians as judges and one requirement, besides talent: The contestants must be Italian-American.

It was one of several events that marked the last day of the Sorrento Cheese Italian Heritage Festival on Hertel Avenue. Thousands crowded the street to enjoy the good weather, food and rides.

Italian-American Idol winner Danielle Calato, 23, performed "Strong Enough" by Stacie Orrico.

She said she fell in love with the song after she heard another contestant sing it at a real American Idol audition a few years ago.

"I love performing at the festival," she said. "There were so many people . . . it's so moving."

As winner of the contest, which started three years ago, Calato received $500. The two runners-up each received $150.

Finalist Rachel Palumbo, 19, had laryngitis, but she said she refused to miss the show.

"I love performing here," she said, pointing to the Italia emblazoned across her red, white and green shirt as evidence.

Organizers estimated that about 700,000 people attended the festival over four days. They said the sometimes rainy weather didn't effect turnout.

Phil Inglima from the Italian restaurant Filipo's on Hertel Ave can attest to that. He said his restaurant's table ran out of the 5,000 rice balls they had prepared by Saturday night. They had to scramble to make more for Sunday.

"We start preparing for the festival two days before," he said. "Then we work 24 hours a day . . . we take shifts."

He learned the restaurant business from a friend in Queens and moved to Buffalo only a few years ago. Now he runs Filipo's with one of his best friends.

Inglima said booths at the festival have become a family affair -- he and his partner both bring family and friends to help out.

"It's fun," said Sarah Lorfida, 14 and a friend of Inglima's daughter, as she prepared some calamari. "I like to see the people who come by."

Tina Caligiuri, who was clad in a "Sopranos: Buffalo Style" shirt, seconded that. She said she's been coming to the festival since she was in a stroller. She loves it because she can catch up with old friends.

"It's a must," she said.


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