05/15/2011 at 11:00 AM EDT
It was a bittersweet return to Georgia for Lauren Alaina, who finally saw up-close the tornado damage that leveled houses near her town of Rossville.
"She's trying to get her composure," mom Kristy Suddeth said Saturday after a sobbing Lauren visited a shelter at the Cherokee Valley Baptist Church in nearby Ringold as part of her American Idol
homecoming. "These people don't need to see somebody crying. They need to see somebody smiling."
Lauren met 11-year-old Tyler Long, who was thrown 200 yards from his family's mobile home and managed to find and comfort family members, including his 8-year-old brother Connor and 10-month-old Ryder.
Long lost his grandfather, Jack Estep, Jr. His mother Veronica Long, who was 11 weeks pregnant, lost her baby and remains in the hospital. Infant brother Ryder is in the ICU with a bleeding brain, two broken arms and a broken leg.
"I felt scared and I prayed, but I just wanted to find my family first," Long told Alaina.
"How can you be so brave?" Alaina asked. "You've got me crying, Tyler. I'm so proud to be from Georgia just like you."
After the tragedy killed 42 people, Alaina sang Martina McBride's "Anyway" on the May 11 episode of "American Idol."
Alaina was among the three Idol
finalists making homecoming tours this weekend. Haley Reinhart returned
to Wheeling, Ill., and Scotty McCreery went back
to Garner, N.C.