Joshua Ledet at his parade in Westlake on Saturday. (Craig Blankenhorn, Fox / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 7:33 PM
When Joshua Ledet and his hometown-boy-makes-good story rolled through town last weekend, the Southwest Louisiana community turned out in droves to see him.
An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people lined the streets of Westlake on Saturday afternoon for a parade thrown in the “American Idol” contestant’s hometown, then 7,900 people showed up at Burton Coliseum for a concert at which Ledet performed that night.
An “American Idol” viewing party will be held at the Multipurpose Complex in Westlake tonight — a gathering that has grown in attendance the further Ledet has advanced on Fox’s singing-talent show.
Ledet is now one of three contestants left on “Idol,” joined by Phillip Phillips of Leesburg, Ga., and Jessica Sanchez of San Diego, Cal.
While Ledet’s friends and family are following the show closely, so too are many in Southwest Louisiana (and the state) who don’t know him personally, but feel a connection to him.
“We all love to know a winner and we all love to know someone famous,” said therapist Keri Forbess-McCorquodale, director of Solutions Employee Assistance Program, a behavioral healthcare group. “We love to be able to say, ‘Oh, I met him,’ or ‘I know him’ or ‘I grew up with his parents.’ If you talk to anybody in this town, they will tell you their connection to Josh. Everybody has a connection to Josh in some way.”
Stuart Wright, professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminal Justice at Lamar University, said, “It says to them that somebody from our community can aspire to achieve something of national prominence. In a way, it’s an affirmation of the American dream.”
Ledet was a criminal justice student at Lamar for a short while before leaving school for “Idol,” although Wright said he did not know Ledet.
Forbess-McCorquodale admits that she, too, has started watching “Idol” — but only in the last few weeks because of Ledet.
“I think when you feel a connection to someone, whatever that connection may be, whether it is proximity, or whether it is that you know a family member in some way, that increases the likelihood that you are going to get involved,” Forbess-McCorquodale said.
Forbess-McCorquodale said people watch both because they hope that one day they will have a similar story and because they are happy to see a fellow member of their community doing well.
“I think age would affect that,” Forbess-McCorquodale said. “I think those of us that are older know that that’s not a reality at this point probably in our lives, but for young people, I think absolutely we all want to be that star and make good in whatever our interests are.”
Wright said he had two nieces who were on “The Biggest Loser” and that he noticed people began to live vicariously through the TV show.
“It was amazing how when I would mention that to other people who had never met them, they would say, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and start naming all these things they knew about them as if they were neighbors or their best friends.”
Wright also said social media adds to the hype.
“I’m not surprised at all that (Ledet) would receive that kind of immediate recognition and have that almost immediate mass popularity,” he said.
Community leaders have attributed Ledet mania with having brought the community together, similar to how Little League and other sports teams have.
“No matter where you are in this town, the conversation eventually gets around to Josh,” Forbess-McCorquodale said. “It doesn’t matter what group you’re speaking with or what group you’re hanging out with... No one has to explain who he is, eventually the conversation will turn to that.”
She also said that if Ledet doesn’t win, community pride won’t be much diminished.
“There will be disappointment, I’m sure, if he doesn’t win, but I think that he’s already won as far as many people are concerned just by getting this far,” Forbess-McCorquodale said.
Neither Forbess-McCorquodale nor Wright see any dangers to the community in following Ledet — both said there would be concern for him, having become famous in such a short amount of time.
“Sometimes people are rushed into celebrity status pretty quickly and they’re not prepared for it,” Wright said.
Forbess-McCorquodale echoed those sentiments, although she said the closeness between Ledet and his family is reassuring.
“I’m just hoping that he will stay connected to them and they will continue to keep him grounded, she said.