American Idol: Main Street Beaufort Celebrates Hometown Heroine

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Less than two weeks after Beaufort, South Carolina, was named America’s Happiest Seaside Town by Coastal Living magazine, a new American Idol was crowned—Candice Glover of St. Helena Island. This Sea Island in Beaufort County is just a hop, skip, and two islands away from our downtown (that’s 15 minutes for those of you that don’t island hop on a daily basis). As Queen of the Sea Islands, Beaufort has a population of about 12,000 people, but the surrounding islands are just as much a part of our community and downtown. The Judds say “Love Can Build a Bridge” and from January through May 2013, Candice, her talent, her determination, and her music were the infrastructure that brought several islands together as one. And not just those of us who live here. We believe that all of America was on our island of “Candicanes” (as Candice liked to call her fans)—voting, cheering, and crying tears of pride and joy the entire time.

Rallying the Candicanes

So just how does a community support one of their own during this once-in-a-lifetime experience? Well, it helps if your American Idol contestant is talented. Having already auditioned for the show’s ninth and eleventh seasons, Candice was familiar to many in our community. She graduated from Beaufort High School, attended college here, and worked as an excursions coordinator on Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort. She also sang the National Anthem for Family Day at Parris Island for the families who were attending graduation at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. So, on January 24, 2013, we gathered around our television sets to watch this determined young woman audition for the third time. We continued to watch over the next few weeks just to catch a glimpse of Candice on television as producers and judges made cut after cut, reducing the candidates down to 20 women and 20 men before finally turning the vote over to America.

Even in the Top 10 week, we knew we weren’t the only ones impressed by Candice. We had our first taste of what was to come as American Idol sent a producer and film crew to shoot footage of Candice’s fans rallying in our downtown Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, Beaufort High School, and Fripp Island. Candice was in Los Angeles preparing her Top 10 performance and the community was determined to show her just how proud we were.

Branding an "Idol"

Having just completed a branding charrette a few months before, we took advantage of the opportunity by printing small posters that read “Historic Downtown Beaufort: Queen of the Sea Islands, Proudly Supports Candice Glover” and gave them to every business in our downtown. We had a few extra for rally attendees, but also asked the two printing businesses in our downtown to print larger posters to hand out to the crowds.

As Candice advanced to the next round week after week, we learned that this event was small potatoes compared to what was to come. But first, we had to do our part by voting for Candice each week. The Top 10 was when our weekly ritual began. Wednesday: Watch Candice perform, post on Facebook and Twitter how fabulous she was, and vote at the end of the show. Thursday: Watch American Idol to see if Candice made it through to the next week.

About halfway through the season, a light bulb went off in our collective heads and we realized that if Candice made it to the Top 3, we would welcome her home with a parade and concert and give her a celebration she very much deserved. So, we continued our ritual and added emails urging friends and family around the country to vote for Candice. This was the first time I had ever voted for any reality show. And not only did I vote, I constantly posted on my personal Facebook and our organization’s Facebook, and emailed friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. Coming from a sales background, I’m aware that there is a fine line between persistence and nag, and that line was well worth walking for Candice.

Funds, Food, and Festivals

Through all the voting, Main Street Beaufort was also planning our 14th annual A Taste of Beaufort: Music, Arts, and Seafood Festival. This event brings about 8,000 people to our downtown during the first weekend of May each year. Just a couple weeks before the event, we realized that if Candice made the Top 3 on American Idol, Beaufort and the Sea Islands would welcome her home for a parade, concert, and celebration that very same weekend.

We were excited to follow the lead of our Chamber of Commerce. One of the first planning meetings was held only six days before her arrival. Looking around at the people at the table, one would have thought the President of the United States was coming.

Beaufort is no stranger to celebrities in town. In the 1980s, Hollywood shot many motion pictures here and actors loved to rent houses in our downtown and walk around like one of us. But this was different. This was one of our own. We had grown emotionally attached to Candice and her quest. The community raised thousands of dollars for her parents to fly to the West Coast each week to see her perform live. We were touched watching them on television as they shed tears of pride for their daughter. Each week, we put new posters in storefront windows, but hung large banners from our buildings, and pounded yard signs into the ground every few feet to show that the entire community and every island was rooting for Candice.

Safety for Candice and her fans was top priority for her visit home. We were told to prepare for more than 20,000 people. Many arrangements had to be made. Airport arrivals, family time, appearances, and of course everyone’s favorite—the parade and concert. Local businesses and our drive-in movie theater held watch parties that week, because even though plans were being made, we still had to get Candice voted to the Top 3, as well as raise money for the weekend’s events.

I should probably tell you, in case your community has a talented young person who makes it this far on American Idol, the show does not foot the bill. It supplies travel and lodging for the contestant, the producers, and the crew. The rest? Well this will be the biggest, quickest fundraiser your community ever pulls off. And pull it off we did. Our Chamber of Commerce led the charge for fundraising efforts and our community rallied and raised more than $37,000 to cover expenses for the weekend. Local businesses also participated with in-kind donations as well as cash.

Because our Waterfront Park was already set up for a festival, we were hoping that Main Street could offer use of the stage, sound, and lighting infrastructure. Unfortunately, the stage location and the setting sun prevented that. So, “The Machine,” a group of volunteers that organizes a 10-day Water Festival downtown, called out the troops and staged a concert on our main street downtown. From securing extra portalets for the bigger to asking our sound company to stay later for a jumbo-tron feed into the park, the two events occurred in harmony.

Celebrating a Hometown Dream

The governor came to officially declare Candice Glover Day across the state and our mayor, Billy Keyserling, took branding to new heights by presenting Candice with not just any old key to the City. He commissioned a key woven of bull rush by St. Helena’s renowned basket weaver who is the only person still weaving baskets out of bull rush rather than the more widely known sweet grass. In honor of our rich art community, Keyserling had one of our beautiful marsh views painted on the inside of the key. Mayor Keyserling is truly Candice’s biggest fan and was instrumental in bringing the entire community of Beaufort and the Sea Islands together for this event.

We had our obstacles. I’m still not sure if the final placement of the stage was Plan D, E, or F, as it changed several times including on the day of the event. Our staff and volunteers alerted merchants that streets would close four hours earlier than planned. And, of course, it rained. The weather didn’t keep away many of our foodie festival attendees, and it definitely didn’t keep away the Candicanes. People huddled under thousands of umbrellas, filling camera shots with colorful fabric, but the clouds parted and the sun came out when Candice finally took the stage to sing. We were able to sneak away from the festival long enough to watch Candice sing a couple of songs.

Playing our small part in the weekend was an unforgettable experience and we're honored to have worked hand-in-glove with the people who made it happen. The saying “It takes a village” took on a whole new meaning that weekend. By Sunday morning emails full of “thank-yous” poured in from everyone involved. If we had to do it again, we know who to call. Everyone worked together – other municipalities, city police department, sheriff’s department, fire department, Chamber of Commerce, Water Festival volunteers, city officials and of course Candice and her family – to make this look like a feat we could accomplish every weekend.

Just two weeks after our community's successful hosting of one of the largest celebrations ever seen in downtown Beaufort, we collectively screamed with joy as Candice was named the American Idol. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us.

To enjoy more of Beaufort's celebration of its newly crowned music queen, check out this video: Candice Glover - Hometown Hero Visit.