CLARKSVILLE — Clarksville residents didn’t need the producers of “American Idol” artificially ramping them up: They already were plenty excited for their hometown finalist.
Hundreds of Iowans packed the town square Tuesday afternoon, some wearing “Maddie Poppe”-branded shirts in a multitude of colors or carrying signs featuring slogans cheering her on, waiting in anticipation of the “American Idol” stretch limousine to arrive so they could finally celebrate one of their own getting to the finals of the reality singing competition.
And thousands later packed the Butler County Fairgrounds in Allison to see Poppe perform some of the songs that have quickly propelled her to stardom on the ABC talent show.
Poppe, 20, is one of three contestants to be voted to the finals of “American Idol.” The winner receives a recording contract with Hollywood Records and a $250,000 cash prize.
Some fans, like Joe Vaughn of Story City, made their own shirts — his said “Team Sign Me,” and his prized signature was Maddie Poppe’s on the front.
“I love how humble she is,” Vaughn said, noting she was also kind enough to sign a photo the two had taken previously. “She is very much deserving.”
But perhaps no one was more excited than Poppe herself, who arrived just before 3 p.m. Tuesday for a short presentation with Mayor Val Swinton.
“I literally can’t even believe this,” she said. “To see it all is just incredible. Thank you so much. ... It’s good to be home.”
A couple of local business owners presented her with gifts, including Prairie Rose Fabrics owner Holly Fokkena, who presented Poppe with a quilt as a “bus-warming gift” for Poppe’s first tour bus.
“I’m not usually a reality-television person,” Fokkena said. “But for this, you have to.”
Another fan who showed up for Poppe’s return to Iowa was Gov. Kim Reynolds, who presented her with a T-shirt on the stage at Allison.
The hometown folks were sure Poppe will beat out Caleb Lee Hutchinson and Gabby Barrett to claim the “Idol” crown. Poppe noted she was grateful for their support.
“This community has been so amazing, (but) I’m not surprised by this,” Poppe said. “We all always back each other, no matter what anybody is going through.”
Mayor Swinton proclaimed Tuesday as “Maddie Poppe Day,” noting Poppe had generated “positive awareness” of the town.
“You literally have put us on the map,” said Swinton, noting his niece in South Carolina posted to Facebook that her uncle was the mayor. “All of a sudden, because of you, I have a really cool position.”
“I’ve always wanted a holiday!” Poppe said. “You know what that means, kids — you get off school! And you can take off work too!”
“Watch it — you’re gonna get elected mayor,” Swinton said.
Poppe got emotional talking about being surprised by classmates of hers from the Class of 2016 when she went to her old high school Tuesday morning, as well as hearing the elementary school students sing “Rainbow Connection,” the song she auditioned with.
“So many of you out here have really supported me since day one, since I sang ‘Landslide’ in the gym the first time, or when I would get up with my dad’s band at Pioneer Days and sang ‘Sweet Child of Mine,’” Poppe said. “You guys aren’t just hopping on the bandwagon now; you’re not just supporting me because I’m on the show. You guys truly have been there for this whole thing ... It means the world to me.”
She and her family also rode in a parade down the downtown stretch of North Main Street at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Mike Kramer, who owns Pete and Shorty’s along the route, sold hot dogs, brats and beverages to the crowd while Poppe’s “Idol” tunes played on a speaker.
“She’s the full package — songwriter, singer, musician,” Kramer said.
Signs were plentiful along the route, including Cyndy Christensen of Rockwell, who wrote on hers: “We may not have any stoplights in Butler Co., but we do have a shining star.”
“It’s just amazing for an Iowa town,” said her coworker, Noreen Wiegmann. “A small-town girl getting this opportunity — it’s just cool.”
The “American Idol” face-off performances are on KCRG-TV beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday. The winner will be announced in the season finale at 7 p.m. Monday.