Seattle, Wash. - Beatboxing - not big hair - may be the reason Seattle stays in the "American Idol" spotlight.
While Fanjaya fever has made millions go Sanjaya Malakar-azy, another hometown boy - Blake Lewis, the other Seattle guy - has quietly and consistently continued to make the cut.
This is a guy local fans are pulling for just as fervently as for the loved - and hated - Malakar. The locally based Blaker Girls are staging viewing parties to root for their hero's victory in May. His hometown of Bothell will declare April 11 "Blake Lewis Day."
So far, Lewis has survived into the final nine on the strength of new versions of "Time of the Season" and "All Mixed Up" (from his favorite band, 311). With almost every song, he has been able to update the sound and add his own brand of distinction - beatboxing and scat singing. For the most part, judges have heaped praise on him, leaving Malakar to bear the weight of criticism.
Last week, "Idol" judge Paula Abdul commented after his performance of The Cure's "Love Song" that Lewis was "hip, contemporary and cool." Simon Cowell said he was "definitely the strongest guy in the competition."
Lewis, 25, has been grooming himself nearly all his life for the big show.
"He has a different sound to his voice we haven't heard before on `American Idol,'" said Kristi Redman, a member of the Blaker Girls who has been a friend of Lewis' since they met 15 years ago as Lockwood Elementary School classmates at a roller-skating party.
"Bringing in the beatboxing is really different," she said. "His style is influenced by jazz and electronic. He's pretty much true to himself on the show, a sweetheart, a total goofball. He's friends with everybody."
Using the chance to help others, the Blaker Girls and Lewis have decided to channel 50 percent of merchandise sales from the Blaker Girls' Web site to cancer research at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center. One of Lewis' best friends and his friend's girlfriend were recently diagnosed with lymphoma. Items on the site range from T-shirts and hoodies to tote bags and mouse pads.
"Now that he has the opportunity, he wants to give back," Redman said. "It's a big part of the reason we're doing the viewing parties."
Every week, the Blaker Girls get together at an auditorium or gymnasium to cheer on their favorite. Tuesday night's party was at Kenmore Junior High School, where supporters watched Lewis, the first finalist to perform this week, sing "Mack the Knife." Judge Randy Jackson was impressed, Simon rated it 7 out of 10, and Abdul said he "personified pizzazz."
"Idol" handlers don't allow contestants or their immediate families to talk to the media, but Lewis' online answers to his fans help us get to know him. Ladies, he's single and he likes independent, down-to-earth women who also love music. He writes his own songs and is working on a solo album, but he also loves to perform "816" by 311. His favorite decade of music is the '80s. He's a devoted son who looks to his parents as role models. His favorite TV shows include "Lost," "Project Runway" and "Nip/Tuck." He loves Cuban food and dark blue.
Lewis has been singing since he was 5, but it wasn't until he joined the Columbia Choirs of Metropolitan Seattle in junior high school that he realized his public persona as a performer. With that group, the young tenor toured Europe.
By the time he got to Inglemoor High in Kenmore, Lewis was well established as a singer, landing in the school's elite-level Encore singing group and other choirs. He acted in school musicals, such as "Anything Goes" and "Crazy for You," and appeared in various comedy one-acts.
"Blake was always that guy making noises and doing impressions," said Redman, who attended the same junior high school and high school as Lewis. "What you see on the show is what he's like in person."
In his senior year he discovered beatboxing, the vocal percussion of hip-hop culture, through a guest performance by Matt Selby of m-pact. From then on, he was the human beatbox. Also that year, he picked up several awards that probably proved prescient: best dancer and runner-up for both class clown and funniest.
After graduating from Inglemoor in 1999, Lewis took music classes at Edmonds Community College, but his main interest was being on stage. He started going out as B-Shorty, acquiring a rep as a beatboxer who came up with his own sound.
"He's an interesting cat. Outside of music I don't know him that well but I consider him a homie," said DJ Able of local turntable spin doctors the Elefaders. They've performed with B-Shorty at least four times, in such venues as The Jet Deck, the Lo_Fi and Des Amis.
"His method of music making - pre-`Idol' anyway - is very similar to ours. He just uses his mouth instead of wax, but he is all improvisational and uses looping pedals and guitar effects to build his beatboxes into songs just like us."
Lewis auditioned for "Idol" on a whim - one of his friends told him to go for it the day before the Sept. 19 auditions at KeyArena - and had to learn Seal's "Crazy" because he wanted a song judges could identify with and he wasn't exactly the Top 40 type.
Bev Edmon, counseling office manager at Inglewood High School, whose daughter, Andrea, is webmaster for the Blaker Girls site, likes his chances.
"He's fun to watch," she said, "(he's) entertaining and has the best overall package."
P-I reporter Athima Chansanchai can be reached at 206-448-8041 or .
Hometown: Bothell, Wash.
Favorite judge, according to americanidol.com: Randy, because he's the musician.
THE BLAKER GIRLS ONLINE
For more information on the group and Blake Lewis: blakergirls.com.
SOURCE: THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
Under license from: