President Bush, center, with the American Idol finalists
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
07/28/2006 at 04:00 PM EDT
winner Taylor Hicks and his fellow finalists, including runner-up Katherine McPhee
, visited the White House Friday – but President Bush provided the entertainment.
"We gave him some presents," Idol'
s Ace Young tells PEOPLE. "On behalf of Taylor winning, we gave him a harmonica that said American Idol
on it that he attempted to play. He didn't sound bad! And Taylor gave him a Soul Patrol T-shirt and he said it'll be his new jogging shirt. And I gave him an Ace beanie. He said it's a little too hot for the beanie, but he'll save it for winter."
The President, who posed for photos with the Idols and gave them a tour of the Oval Office, asked them how long it had been since they'd seen their families and told them, "This is the highlight of my day."
"Before we walked in," Young says, "everyone was asking who voted for him. … A majority (of us) didn't. But when we walked out, every single person said, 'Wow, what a great guy!' It felt like we were just hanging out with him."
Elliott Yamin missed the first part of the visit with the President. About five minutes after it started, he was seen racing down the hall toward the Oval Office, wiping his brow and saying, "Phew!"
"He was sleeping!" Young explains, adding that the Idols – who have been on the "American Idols Live" tour since July 6 – arrived in Washington, D.C., at 5:30 a.m., and that some of them have been having a hard time sleeping on the bus that takes them from city to city.
Before meeting the President, the Idols, accompanied by finalist Paris Bennett's mother, Jamecia, were given a tour of the White House by the First Lady's press secretary, Susan Whitson – Hicks's onetime 9th-grade English teacher.
A favorite stop? The library, where the Idols took books off the shelves looking for a secret passageway – to no avail. "We lost Kellie (Pickler) for a little while," says Young, laughing. "We thought she'd found something! When we were up in the Oval Office, Kellie told President Bush we'd been looking for secret passageways. In a joking manner, he said, 'Yeah … don't.' "
The visit came just hours before the Idols hit the stage at D.C.'s Verizon Center – the first time McPhee performed with them on tour since recovering from bronchitis and laryngitis. "She hasn't shown any nerves," says Young. "She'll get right back into it."