05/15/2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
had a few things she really wanted to do in Toledo, Ohio.
She wanted to reunite with bass player Frankie May
at her old haunt, Papa's Tavern
. She wanted to see her family in Elliston, Ohio, and thank her fans by singing her original songs. She wanted to raise awareness about juvenile diabetes. But mostly, Bowersox
wanted to move and lift the spirits of her hometown.
On a car ride back to her hotel after a long Friday, Idol top 3 finalist
Bowersox, 24, smiles a weary smile but tells PEOPLE contently, "That was my goal, and hopefully, mission accomplished."
The American Idol
contestant arrived at a private airstrip Thursday night -… then it was right down to business. She visited a local FOX station and, on Friday morning, dropped into three local radio stations. …
After a few more whirlwind stops, it was time for the big event: Bowersox's parade and concert in downtown Toledo, where she received a glass key to the city from Mayor Michael Bell
. She also performed her original song "Holy Toledo," which has been getting airplay in northwest Ohio, to about 5,000 , many who sang along and cried.RELATED: Read all about Lee DeWyze's Illinois homecoming.RELATED: Read all about Casey James's Texas homecoming.
"She's really touched a chord with here," says Steve Fought
, communications director for Rep. Marcy Kaptur
and a longtime friend of Bowersox's mentor, Ron Rasberry
. "Unemployment's high and need something to hold on to." … Tim Stahl
, the owner of the neighborhood bar Papa's Tavern where Bowersox and her bassist Frankie are enshrined in a mural on the wall, then tried to keep the crowd to as many regulars as possible when Bowersox came back to perform a mix of covers and original songs.
Onstage, Bowersox finally let her guard down and cried a little. Longtime patron Alberta Smithson
, who has watched Bowersox sing there since she was 14, says, "She's really a good girl. She hasn't had a lot to smile about, but she is smiling more and more. She's our baby and she's come home."
After lunch at her dad Bill
's house, and some quality time with her son, Tony
, Bowersox performed for more than 4,000 fans at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds -… and made a stump speech.
"It's not up to me," she told the crowd, asking for their votes. "It's completely up to you. God bless you all for carrying me this far. I'm just very thankful."
To end her jam-packed day, Bowersox and her family head to Fifth Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens, where she threw out the first pitch and performed the national anthem before a record crowd.
"The whole day was great," she said. "I've always had an idea of it happening -- a far-fetched idea -- but to actually see it manifest into reality, it's moving." --Cynthia WangTell us: Who do you think will win American Idol?
Splash News Online