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Phillips’ ‘Idol’ run nearing finish line

Leesburg’s Phillip Phillips smiles for a photo with “American Idol” judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Randy Jackson, and fellow finalist Jessica Sanchez.

Leesburg’s Phillip Phillips smiles for a photo with “American Idol” judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Randy Jackson, and fellow finalist Jessica Sanchez.

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Casey Dixon

ALL EYES ON PHILLIP

TODAY

WHAT: “American Idol” Voting Party hosted by the Albany Downtown Manager’s office and the Albany Parks and Recreation Department

WHEN: 7 p.m.

WHERE: Albany Civic Center

COST: Free and open to the public

WEDNESDAY

WHAT: “American Idol” Grand Finale Viewing Party hosted by FOX 31, Lee County Chamber of Commerce, Lee County High School and Q102.1

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday — gates open 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Lee County High School football stadium (event will be moved to the school’s gymnasium in the event of rain)

COST: Free and open to the public. Seating is limited to the first 3,000 people.

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Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. — Four months ago, Phillip Phillips was one of the go-to local musicians for events including house parties, holiday events and charity fundraisers.

Now — nearly one season of “American Idol” later — Leesburg’s Phillips, 21, is preparing for three life-changing performances in front of an audience of millions across the country after he sang his way into the final last week.

And Southwest Georgia is taking Phillips’ success as an opportunity to celebrate, with large-scale events planned for tonight and Wednesday night.

Tonight, the Albany Downtown Manager’s office and the Albany Parks and Recreation Department are planning a voting party on the floor of the Albany Civic Center. The public is invited to bring lawn chairs and blankets onto the field where the Panthers’ football team plays to watch the final performances of “American Idol” Season 11 on a 30-foot screen.

Monique Broughton, assistant to downtown manager Aaron Blair, said that the plan for the event came together quickly.

“We had a few calls from the community who thought it was a good idea to have an event in downtown,” she said. “So, we put this together.”

Broughton said that no outside food or drink will be allowed, but concessions will be available inside the Civic Center.

On Wednesday, Fox 31, along with the Lee County Chamber of Commerce, Lee County High School and Q-102 are partnering together for an “American Idol” grand finale viewing party in the football stadium at Lee County High School. The event will be open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis, with a limit of 3,000 seats available. Gates will open at 6:30 p.m. No outside food or beverages will be allowed inside the stadium.

Josh Boutwell of Fox 31 said that the station had been working on this event for a while.

“We talked about it in anticipation and then finalized plans after Phillip moved on to the finale,” Boutwell said.

During the event, Fox 31 will air a special tribute to Phillips between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. that will also be shown on the big screen.

In the event of rain, the party will be moved into the gymnasium at the high school.

Tonight’s show will feature Phillips, along with his fellow finalist, 16-year-old California native Jessica Sanchez, performing three songs each. One will be a repeat of each artist’s favorite performance of the season. Another will be a song chosen by “Idol” creator Simon Fuller. The third performance will be the debut of an original song.

HOMETOWN SUPPORT

And no doubt, these events will be full of support for the hometown celebrity.

It doesn’t take much time in Leesburg and Albany to realize that Phillip Phillips mania has reached epidemic proportions in the area. Blue yard signs of support are more widespread than signs for any political candidate in this summer’s elections. Businesses are using any advertising space they have outside their business to support Phillips.

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Casey Dixon

The sign at Heldenberg’s Automotive on U.S. Highway 19 in Lee County reads “Vote Phillip for President.” On a fence outside Kinchafoonee Primary School, red Dixie cups spell out “KPS (heart’s) Phillip Phillips! Vote!” Leesburg Animal Hospital’s sign says, “Keep on Rockin’ it Phillip Phillips!” Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital is supporting Phillips with a sign over its main entrance.

It’s no secret that Leesburg and Albany have made a point to take care of Phillip and his family. Many Lee County merchants donated a portion of their earnings each week to help send the Phillips family to Los Angeles for the tapings, which earned the town national attention, even landing on the homepage of the infamous celebrity gossip website TMZ.

And the area is still lending a hand to the family as the finale nears.

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Special photo/Kate Henry

LaDonna Urick, sister of Phillip Phillips, tries on outfits at clothing store “Blush” in preparation for the “American Idol” finale.

Local boutique owner Kate Henry took it upon herself to make sure that the ladies of the Phillips family hit Hollywood in style at the finale. Blush, Henry’s store, recently locked its doors and allowed Phillips’ sister, LaDonna Urick, to come in and pick out clothes for herself and the other ladies, including Phillips’ mother who is already in Los Angeles.

Henry, who has been friends with Urick since high school, said she felt like this was something she could do to help.

“I wanted her to look nice and represent Albany and Leesburg well,” Henry said.

And as for the national exposure for a small local business, Henry is optimistic. “I am pumped about it. It’s awesome. Maybe JLo will ask them about their clothes.”

After posting photos of the outfitting session on Facebook, Henry said that some curious young ladies were spotted peaking in the window, trying to get a glimpse of Phillips’ sister.

CELEBRITY SUPPORT

But local teenage girls are not the only fans Phillips has. As with any season of “American Idol,” those people who are already stars are throwing their support behind contestants.

Country star Luke Bryan, also from Leesburg, has shown his support for Phillips in many ways, even going so far as to wear a Phillip Phillips t-shirt and film a short video clip wishing the “Idol” hopeful the best.

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Luke Bryan

“When I found out there was a Leesburg boy doing well on ‘American Idol,’ I’ve been watching every episode. It’s truly amazing watching your climb ... I’m pulling for you, buddy,” Bryan said in the clip.

Phillips responded to the video via his Twitter account, saying to Bryan, “thank u so much for the support man, i really appreciate it ... hope all is well & hopefully we can meet up soon!”

Also on the list of famous Phillips supporters is Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, who was impressed by Phillips’ performance of his band’s song “Disease” during last week’s show. He congratulated him on the performance on Twitter.

Former “Idol” contestants Lauren Alaina and Kris Allen have both said recently that they think Phillip will win.

And if that wasn’t enough, celebrity magazine US Weekly has featured Phillips, along with top three contestants Sanchez and Joshua Ledet, in its current edition.

SOUTHWEST GEORGIA’S ‘IDOL’

Certainly, Phillip will do well after the season comes to an end regardless of the outcome of the show. His popularity is assured, if the voting results of the season are any indication. Phillips has not landed in the bottom of the pack all season long.

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Casey Dixon

And he undoubtedly has the support of Southwest Georgia. His hometown concert in Leesburg on May 12 was a huge success, drawing an estimated 10,000-20,000 people into the small town 12 miles north of Albany.

Officials at the Lee chamber say they are please about everything that has happened since Phillips started his “American Idol” journey.

“Crazy’s a good word,” said Lisa Davis, vice president of the chamber. “But it’s a good crazy. There is always room to improve, considering we’ve never handled anything of this size. We think everyone had a good time and we were pleased with how it turned out.”

Tonight, Phillips’ fans will take to texting, calling and voting online for Phillips. But no matter what happens, it’s clear that he already is Southwest Georgia’s “American Idol.”

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