An afternoon with Caleb Johnson

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | May 12, 2014
Caleb Johnson is pictured with Shelby Harrell, staff writer for The Mountaineer after a press conference at the Orange Peel in Asheville. Johnson visited his hometown after being named one of the top 3 contestants on American Idol this year.

This past Saturday, I spent my afternoon with Caleb Johnson, a top three finalist for American Idol. And I’m sure hundreds upon hundreds of people feel the same way.

That’s the thing about Caleb — you can pack several hundreds of people into a small area with him, and it feels like you’re just hanging out with him one on one. That’s how authentic he is.

“The mayor’s hot!” Caleb yelled out to the Orange Peel crowd after Asheville Mayor Esther E. Manheimer had declared May 10 as “Caleb Johnson Day.”

“Caleb’s hot, too,” Manheimer responded with a big grin.

Saturday afternoon was a big day for Asheville and for Caleb. Thousands of Ashevillians, myself included, lined the sidewalks of downtown to watch the American Idol homecoming parade and catch a glimpse of the Asheville native who is now so famous.

Caleb had returned to his hometown to film the American Idol hometown parade and concert because he was named one of the top three contestants on the show last week.  The homecoming episode of American Idol will be aired at 8 p.m. this Wednesday on Fox.

Caleb’s fans were serious — as soon as they saw him slow rolling toward them in a white Mustang during the parade, so many swarms of people encircled his car that I could barely take any photos of him ... all I saw were people’s arms in the air, and hands grasping at Caleb.

I was trying to be professional, but I had to channel my inner “Caleb’s No. 1 fan” self to push everyone out of my way to get close to him and snap some pictures. At that point, I was preparing myself to take photos of all the bodies that would be run over since they weren’t moving away from the moving Mustang. Fortunately, people weren’t being that crazy…yet.

The real craziness happened when Caleb performed his show at The Orange Peel, and Caleb was the craziest. When walking in the door, all you could hear was "Caleb, Caleb, Caleb!" Thank goodness I was attending as press, and was allowed to stand in the press area down in front of the stage. My 5’1” self wouldn’t have stood a chance against that massive crowd.

I may have suffered some hearing loss from being right next to the speaker, but it was worth it. I was close enough to Caleb that he could have sweat on me, and as his No. 1 fan, I don’t think I would have minded.  While he rocked out to “Dazed and Confused,” by Led Zeppelin, his original song “Pressure and Time,” and “Family Tree” by Kings of Leon, I tried so hard to focus on getting good pictures and keeping in work mode, but by the second song I was squealing just as loud as the teenage girls behind me.

Caleb is so hardcore on stage — he moves around a lot, head bangs and flips his hair around and is so expressive when he sings every word. It made me dance around and scream for him the whole time he sang…. But of course I made time to take pictures of him too.

I’m sure Bobby from the Asheville Citizen-Times and Jeremy from Clear Channel Communications right next to me noticed my excitement and when I jumped up and down cheering, but I simply couldn’t hold it back. Nor would I want to.

I was able to participate in a 10-minute long press conference with Caleb after the concert. With my recorder in hand, I was huddled around him with about 12 other reporters from the area, trying to get a word in edge-wise. He mostly talked about how different his life has been in Los Angeles and professed his love for being home with his family and friends, enjoying barbecue and sweet tea.

Seeing Caleb up close made me realize how down to earth he really is. This past February, when Caleb had only made it past the auditions into American Idol, I managed to schedule a 20-minute phone interview with him. I was definitely nervous about the interview, but I remember it was so incredibly laid back and he made me laugh several times. He talked about his love of rock and roll music (something he and I have in common) and about his persistence in music that led him to audition for American Idol for a third time.

This past weekend, three months after our first interview, I noticed that Caleb had not changed a bit. He was still goofy, fun and all about rock and roll. He even talked the same — candidly in a casual way. That was one thing that fascinated me; he had not changed after being in the spotlight in Los Angeles for three months. Talk about impressive.

It’s safe to say that Caleb Johnson has made a name for himself, and it’s obvious to me that he is keeping everything true to his own style — even with the way he talks to the media. It’s possible that he will win the American Idol competition, and if he does, I know it’s because he’s a true original that hasn’t let fame or a change of scenery take him away from his Asheville roots.

I became a true fan when I first talked to him in February, and after seeing him up close last weekend (and getting my picture taken with him), I think I’ve become an even bigger fan — if that’s possible. Please join me in voting for him over the next couple of weeks so we can help this talented, exciting performer from our area win the title he definitely deserves.

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