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Dalton Rapattoni — and His Grandma — Get a Hero's Welcome in Sunnyvale

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Dalton Rapattoni Homecoming Parade
Town Center Park, Sunnyvale
Saturday, March 26, 2016

As Dalton Rapattoni followed his police escort to a stage at Town Center Park on Saturday afternoon, he looked a little freaked out. With thousands of people filling the streets of his hometown to get a glimpse of their homegrown overnight star, you couldn't really blame him.

The American Idol quarterfinalist has gone from a no-name School of Rock teacher to a finalist on one of the most successful reality shows in history in just a matter of months. It’s easy to see why he might be a little overwhelmed by all the attention at his homecoming parade and concert Saturday in Sunnyvale.

The day's festivities made for a suitably family-friendly affair. The local high school's marching band and drill teams participated in the parade along with Rapattoni, while local clubs sold drinks and snacks to the crowd. The park was spacious, with plenty of room for people to lay out on their blankets with their dogs, and the nice weather made it a perfect day for an outdoor concert.

While Rapattoni might have looked intimidated before his performance, he was much more at ease on stage. In fact, he took to the small stage in the park just like he would the American Idol stage. He sang a handful of songs for the audience — some he had performed on American Idol and some that didn’t make the cut, like “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes. He held the attention of the many adoring teenage girls in the front row and their parents, who stood in the back but still attentively watched.

One of the young girls in attendance was Emma Nutz, a 10-year-old from Poetry. She and her family drove the small distance to see Rapattoni perform at his alma mater of sorts, School of Rock, earlier that morning. Nutz took selfies with the heartthrob and said she had already sent them to all her friends.

There were plenty of other fans like Nutz who trotted out signs like “Fallin’ for Dalton” and “Last Idol Standing,” or wore homemade T-shirts that said things like “#TeamDalton.”

One of those fans sporting a “#TeamDalton” T-shirt was Rapattoni’s grandmother, Joan Kent. She says she and the family always knew the AI finalist would be a singer. He tried athletics, but that didn’t pan out. She mentioned his other bands, Fly Away Hero and IM5, but was interrupted by a young girl who approached her for a photo.

Even Rapattoni's family members are now celebrities in Sunnyvale. The young girl explained that she saw IM5 a few years ago at the House of Blues and got a picture with Rapattoni. Now, to make it a family affair, she asks for a photo with his grandmother.

Kent says it's crazy that girls would want pictures with her. “It’s just my 15 seconds of fame,” she says. “He’s overwhelmed with appreciation. It’s stressful and it’s crazy, but he’s thankful."

It's easy to see why Rapattoni has made it this far on American Idol. Audiences have watched him take some classic songs and switch them into something completely different. He took the sweet and tender "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and made it into a rock song, honing in on the "devoted" part.

But even when Rapattoni isn't changing the arrangement or style of a song, he can still captivate an audience. He admitted that he hadn't yet memorized the lyrics to one song, "Calling You" by Blue October, but he charmed his way through it and asked a fan to hold his phone on stage so he could read the lyrics. The audience laughed and Rapattoni pulled it off without much problem.

"Calling to You" was a song that Rapattoni dedicated to the people of his hometown, and his hometown returned the favor: Sunnyvale declared March 26  “Dalton Rapattoni Day” and gave him a key to the city. He looked shocked by the gesture.

"I didn't think even one-fourth of y'all would be here," he said, clearly overcome by the outpouring from his hometown. "I became who I was here."

Watch Rapattoni compete for a spot in the top three for the final season of American Idol on Thursday, March 31.

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