Desiree Eddy holds a collage dedicated to American Idol contestant Kristy Lee Cook at Country Folks Restaurant in Selma. Cook is one of 24 contestants remaining and will sing Wednesday night. - Jamie Lusch

'Idol' Curiosity

SELMA — Neighbors will gather at the Country Folks Restaurant tonight for $1 hotdogs and a chance to watch hometown gal Kristy Lee Cook take a shot at "American Idol" fame on a big-screen TV.

"We want people to vote for her," said waitress Desiree Eddy. "She's really sweet."

Cook made it to the top 24 semifinalists from a field of more than 100,000 who attended auditions held in seven cities across the United States.

At her tryout in Philadelphia, Cook's version of "Amazing Grace" impressed all three "Idol" judges, including the often razor-tongued Simon Cowell.

"I like you and you're very sincere," Cowell said, adding Cook's voice holds dual qualities of country stars and '60s singers.

Popping on a CD of Cook's earlier tunes and grabbing a homemade collage of the 24-year-old Selma songster off the entry wall, Eddy explained not all are able to watch television in their neck of the woods.

"We're a small community. Not everyone has satellite out here," Eddy said.

She said customers have been indignant over erroneous media reports stating Cook hails from Salem, not Selma.

Eddy said one customer complained, "They're trying to steal our thunder."

This is Cook's second shot at the "Idol" contest. She was cut early in a previous year's tryout.

"But she learned a lot and tried out again in Philly," Eddy said. "She sold her horse to pay for her trip."

Eddy's parents, Stan and Alicia Kinsey, own the family restaurant that's served as a gathering place for family and friends to watch Cook, who sang at local fairs and country joints as a tomboy teen, become a finalist on a hit show.

They are hoping their favorite star will end up winning a fat recording contract and a series of chart toppers like her predecessors Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.

"I think she's great. She's right up there with the big time," agreed customer Tom Scott.

The restaurant will remain open past its normal afternoon closing time tonight so everyone can come cheer — and vote, said Stan Kinsey.

Cook's mother, Charlene Cook, contacted at the family's log home just down the road, said she is not allowed to speak to media per the rules of the Fox show. But she did say she's been coming into the restaurant for the past couple of weeks to watch the show.

Kristy Cook has garnered some controversy among fans of the amateur talent show because she may have already had a record deal. According to USA Today online, she signed a recording contract with Arista Nashville and a songwriting deal with BMI in 2001 but was released from her contract within a year. She later released a small-label album called "Devoted," according to USA Today.

Idol Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe told USA Today that "American Idol" rules require only that contestants not be currently under contract.

Up until tonight, all the judging was in the hands of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Cowell. But now it is up to audiences to select who stays in the competition, Eddy said.

"Now they're turning it all over to us," she said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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