For the love of Idols

From all over the country, fans came to see America's favorite reality TV stars. Some of them even brought their parents.

Published August 7, 2006

TAMPA - The American Idols Live show wasn't scheduled to start until 7 p.m. Sunday, but for 12-year-old Melanie Decerbo, the worshipping started at 10 a.m.

That's when she and her parents left their home in Palm Coast and made the three-hour drive to the St. Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa to camp out and wait for the stars to appear.

Melanie had spent weeks scouting Idol internet sites for concert gossip and backstage bits, and she read she could spot the Idols by their tour buses hours before the show.

So she made a green T-shirt featuring her leprechaun-looking heartthrob Elliott Yamin, ironed the faces of Ace Young, Chris Daughtry, Lisa Tucker and Taylor Hicks on her pants and waited.

When it comes to Yamin, Melanie was there for more than just the concert, her dad Arnold Decerbo joked.

"She's just waiting for the marriage certificate," he said.

Some time after 2 p.m., Melanie met Yamin, and he signed his name on the back of her shirt.

"Elliot called her sweetheart," her mom Laura Decerbo said. "She was flipping out."

"I got butterflies," Melanie said.

She was one of thousands of fans who secured a ticket to Sunday's sold-out stop of the national American Idol tour, where the Fox show's top 10 contestants perform the songs that made them instant Idols on the grueling TV singing competition.

The St. Pete Times Forum can hold up to 21,500 for concerts. Tickets ranged from $38.50 to $68.50.

Lawanda Thomas-Norris travelled for more than 16 hours to see winner Taylor Hicks perform Sunday. For the 51-year-old from Lafayette, La., Hicks had her at harmonica.

She likes the grey-haired soul singer's "old school" style.

So do Sissy Crutchfield, Susie Lord and Cindy Phelps from Lakeland. Hicks was often the topic of beauty shop conversation at The Hair Exchange, Crutchfield's salon.

The women declined to give their ages, but mentioned the last show they attended was Menopause: The Musical.

"Your body gets old," Phelps said. "Your mind doesn't."

Hicks appeals to the youngest idolizers, too. In preparation for their first concert ever, sisters Kaitlyn, 7, and Kristen Wheeler, 9, made signs that said: Taylor, you rock!

Jessica Lamb's sign said: I Picked Pickler, but what made the 15-year-old fan stand out was the tiny photos of sassy southern Kellie Pickler's face all over Jessica's shirt and hot pink handbag.

Jessica loves Pickler so much, she called the toll-free number and voted for her after every episode.

"Yeah," her dad William Lamb said. "The phone was busy for a couple hours."

But Lamb supported his daughter by sporting an American Idol shirt, too.

Wes Bowser, on the other hand, contemplated ditching his boyfriend Richie Hudson to hit the bar across the street during the concert. They drove from Orlando so Hudson, 23, could see his Idol, Katharine McPhee, who lost to Hicks in the competition.

"She's just the best singer ever," Hudson said.

Jealous, Wes?

"She can have him," 28-year-old Bowser said.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.