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Toledo embraces its 'Idol' finalist

Crystal Bowersox's hard-luck hometown hears its own story in hers.

TOLEDO, Ohio - She's a bit rough around the edges with blue-collar roots.

American Idol finalist Crystal Bowersox is a lot like the Ohio towns where she grew up, and her unlikely path to stardom has hit just the right note with people in an area that has fallen on hard times.

"We're kind of a southern suburb of Detroit, and we're a microcosm of what's going on there," said Dave Gierke, one of Bowersox's former high school music teachers. "We need something to celebrate, and it's her."

Thousands were expected to gather Wednesday night at a downtown arena and in bars where she sang not long ago to see whether she would be crowned champion of the ninth season of the Fox network's singing competition.

The finale came down to Bowersox and Lee DeWyze, a paint salesclerk from Mount Prospect, Ill.

Just a few months ago, Bowersox was a single mother struggling to make a living.

"She's one of us," said Diane Frick, who lives in Oregon, a Toledo suburb. "People are for the underdog today because everyone has been hit by the economic downturn."

Part of what makes Bowersox likable is that she embraces what her story means to people.

A song she wrote a few years ago called "Holy Toledo" has become a favorite on local radio stations, with its refrain: "How do I get to heaven from here?"

"It's the anthem for my city," she said during last week's Idol show. "And it's given the area so much hope and something to look forward to, and that's what this is all about."

Bowersox, 24, started singing when she was 10. She used money she won in talent contests to buy clothes and left home for Chicago when she was 17. She strummed her guitar in subway stations and coffeehouses before returning home to raise her son, Tony, who's now a toddler.

She grew up in Elliston, a tiny village just outside the city's eastern edge, and calls both places home.

She's from the side of the city that's home to a pair of oil refineries, a coal-burning power plant, and a hazardous-waste dump. Her father is an electrician at a plant that processes metal.

The area has been hit hard by auto industry and manufacturing layoffs in recent years, and the unemployment rate has stayed around 13 percent, well above the national average.

Bad news seems to come in bunches lately - schools being shut down, jobs moving out of town, and police officers and firefighters taking pay cuts.

That's why Bowersox's story couldn't have come at a better time.

"It's given people something to smile about," said Becky Zaborski, of Petersburg, Mich.