I used to call him "Hoodie Guy."
Before I knew his name was Lee, I just knew him as the guy who always wore a hoodie.
Lots of people sing karaoke every Tuesday night at the bar I sometimes bar tend at, Potato Creek Johnny's in Glenview. (I am also a copy editor at the Daily Herald.) I've been working at the bar off and on since 1997, and I've seen a lot of karaoke.
Some people are good. Some people are bad. Some people are so unbelievably terrible I've joked about selling earplugs behind the bar for 50 cents to make some extra cash.
Only thing was, when Hoodie Guy sang, everyone got quiet. Hoodie Guy could really sing. Hoodie Guy made even karaoke songs his own. Hoodie Guy was awesome.
Sometimes they play recorded songs between singers, and I've joked about how good the karaoke singer sounds. But once I heard Kings of Leon's "Sex on Fire" and made the joke, and it was really a guy singing. Yup, it was Lee.
Eventually it became a staple - sometimes he'd change it up, and I'd swear it was better than the original - and everyone would sing along.
Lee DeWyze, 24, who grew up in Mount Prospect, is now a top contender on "American Idol."
I have seen Lee and his friends in the bar for about two years. Sometimes Lee and his good buddy, Vince, would sing outside in the beer garden, and people would sing along. He always carried his guitar with him, and sometimes he'd sing on the karaoke stage and play his guitar, too.
I guess the only difference is now he does that for more than 20 million people.
And the bar couldn't be more proud of him. There's a banner saying "Vote for Lee" on the back wall, right by where he used to sing. His friends still come in on Tuesdays. People watch "Idol" there, and when you look around when the show ends, everyone's furiously texting to vote for Lee.
Working at the paper and the bar, I've gotten to know some of his friends, and I'm happy to report he's as sweet and humble a guy as he seems up on the big stage.
When I've been bartending lately, more and more people want to know if Lee DeWyze really sings there.
But as John Coyne, the karaoke host, said to me weeks ago, "I don't think he's coming back."
Yeah, neither do I, John.
We still wish him all the luck in the world.