Donnie and Sheryl Phillips, parents of Phillip Phillips, receive the Key to the city of Leesburg from Mayor Jim Quinn Wednesday. Phillip Phillips is a finalist on the popular network television show “American Idol,” and the Phillipses accepted the key on their son’s behalf.
LEESBURG, Ga. — Phillip Phillips, a finalist on the popular Fox television show “American Idol,” was awarded the key to the city of Leesburg Wednesday by Mayor Jim Quinn.
Phillips’ parents, Sheryl and Phillip (Donnie) Phillips, accepted the honor for their son, who was in Los Angeles with the “Idol” production company. Quinn also declared each Wednesday until the “Idol” competition is over to be Phillip Phillips Day.
Following a simple presentation by Quinn, Sheryl and Donnie Phillips related some of the history behind their son’s decision to audition for the show. He was recently named one of 13 finalist competing for the show’s top prize, Donnie Phillips said.
“All my children sing,” Phillips said, “but Phillip had talked about trying out for the show. I encouraged him to do it before now, but maybe this was the best time.”
Quinn said Wednesday’s ceremony marked only the fifth occasion during his four years as mayor that he’s awarded a gold key. Other recipients include San Francisco Giants star Buster Posey (twice), country music artist Luke Bryan and Eloise Green, a Lee County resident who turned 100 years old.
“Everyone in Leesburg is proud of Phillip Phillips,” Quinn said. “It’s just a token, but he sure deserves it. We couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s represented the city and Lee County.”
According to Quinn, the first real media attention surronding Phillips came from Fox News in Atlanta right after the singer won a place on the show.
“They were down here the day after the Savannah audition, looking for whatever information they could find. I don’t think they got a whole lot because the ‘Idol’ production company had family members under contract not to speak. They wound up just filming the pawn shop where he works and talking to some of his friends.”
Donnie Phillips said he and his wife are proud of their son, as they are of all their children, and thanked the community for the support given during the course of the show so far.
According to Donnie Phillips, a frustrating part of the process has been the desire to be at his son’s performances each week. “American Idol” pays no part of expenses for family travel or lodging, and Donnie Phillips said he feels that supporting his son is important to his success on the show.
“We didn’t start out wanting to be there so much,” Phillips said. “But when we saw how his face changed when he saw us in the audience, I knew we had to find a way to be there for him. I’ll borrow the money if I have to.”
Donnie Phillips described his family’s bond as “close,” his son as “a home body” and the Los Angeles media environment as “like another world.” Employed as an electrician, Donnie Phillips’ employer has been “less than completely tolerant” of his time away from work, according to Phillips, prompting him to leave his job in favor of the pawn shop he owns.
“I didn’t exactly quit my job,” Phillips said. “I just told them I wouldn’t be back.”
Still, airfares and living costs are high, and while the Phillipses are restrained by contract from soliciting contributions for such purposes, an independent effort to solve the issue is taking place within the community.
Rob Coulter, owner of the website Albany Uncovered, said he has approached a number of community businesses with the idea of making flat-rate or percentage-based contributions to a Phillips family expense fund.
According to Coulter, a special bank account is being established in Leesburg for participating merchants to deposit their pledge each Friday morning after “American Idol” voting on Thursday evenings. Coulter said businesses of various sizes have pledged some level of support for the cause, with some larger businesses pledging as much as 10 percent of their income each Phillip Phillips Day while he remains in the competition.