Caleb Johnson returns to Asheville

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | May 13, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell American Idol top three finalist Caleb Johnson sings "Dazed and Confused" by Led Zeppelin on Saturday at The Orange Peel. Johnson returned to Asheville to film the homecoming episode of American Idol, which included a parade and live concert.

“Caleb! Caleb! Caleb” — chants for American Idol finalist Caleb Johnson echoed through downtown Asheville all day Saturday when Johnson returned to his hometown for the first time in nearly three months.

During his visit, Johnson had lunch with his family at 12 Bones, waved to his fans alongside his brother Houston during a parade in his honor and performed songs with his former band Elijah Hooker at The Orange Peel.

“That was so epic,” Johnson said about the parade during a press conference outside the Orange Peel. “I was like calling people out by name and stuff as I saw them. It was so overwhelming but it was so amazing. I mean, I was on Cloud Nine. ... I was seeing people that I haven't seen in five, six months or even a year, some people that had went away and just came back just to see me. And I'm like, wow, that is so humbling. I literally almost got emotional, and then I was like, man I can't do that. It was so awesome I will never, ever forget this day, ever.”

Johnson, a Clyde A. Erwin High School graduate, is one of the top three contestants of American Idol, and only needs to win two more rounds of votes to be named the American Idol winner of season 13.

After swimming through the swarms of people reaching for his autograph, pictures and high fives, Johnson made his way to the stage of the Orange Peel to perform for hundreds of squealing fans.

But before rocking the stage, Johnson received awards from Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and County Commission Chairman David Gantt. Manheimer declared May 10 as “Caleb Johnson day” and announced that Johnson would be singing  “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin during the next live “Idol” performance, which airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

According to Manheimer, Asheville voted for Johnson to sing Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" for a second time. Johnson performed the song for the fans at the Orange Peel, as well as his original song "Pressure and Time" and "Family Tree" by Kings of Leon.

“The mayor’s hot!” Johnson yelled out the crowd after receiving his awards.

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

After the Orange Peel concert, Johnson gave a brief interview, interrupted off and on by screaming fans or from people wanting a photo. Johnson ended his hometown visit with a public concert at the Emerald Lounge Saturday night with Elijah Hooker

“We would do shows and there were like 10 people there, and now it's like — it was a madhouse today,” Johnson said about his band. “It's mind-blowing how in a matter of months everything just changed.

During the interview, Johnson said he felt at ease to be back home in western North Carolina.

“It’s amazing it’s a haunting experience because I’m out in LA doing the show so I can’t really stay involved with what’s going on in my hometown so just coming back here and just seeing it — I mean I got chills,” Johnson said. “It was so peaceful just getting off the plane and coming back into the Blue Ridge Mountains and seeing this lush green scenery, 'cause you know L.A. is, like, a desert. ... It's not as glamorous as people say. ... It's like buildings and dirt…. I got to have barbecue and sweet tea. They don't have any of that (in Los Angeles).”

“What's cool about Asheville is that Asheville is eclectic. ... There are so many diverse bands and artists. This is literally one of the coolest towns, I think, in the world. ... This town's literally got its own special unique flavor, its own special unique people, it's so — it's just a crazy town. I mean that in the best way possible.”

While there are a couple of weeks left in the American Idol season, Johnson said he wasn’t a bit nervous.

“What's really cool is that the only time I was nervous was that first live show. ... It's a crazy, surreal moment when you're in that TV studio (for the first time),” Johnson said.
“ Once you get into the groove of that, you can perform and let it all be natural and just work it, kind of like how it was today. ... Coming back home it's like, yes, more of that great amazing jam ... It's just awesome.”

While many people know Asheville for its heavy bluegrass scene, Johnson may be putting rock and roll on the map.

“It's all eclectic, but the kick is that it's in Western North Carolina, you know what I'm saying?” Johnson said. “It's just so amazing. I'm so glad that I'm from this town, because I would not be the singer, the performer, the artist that I am today if it wasn't for working with all these different musicians, the artists, the painters. …  And I think it's a true testament to this town. This town is it. This town has the ‘It Factor.’ ... It's a be-yourself town.”

But Johnson credits a lot of his success to his supportive family and friends, and most of all, his fans.

“This has absolutely been one of the most incredible, powerful moments in my life,” he said. “And I seriously could not be here right now without the amazing love and support from all my fans, all my friends, all my family. It's so humbling and it's amazing. So, thank you, so much, and God bless you guys.”