SOUTH PASADENA — Frank Angelelli is a man of unshakeable faith.
Already, he has seen his son-in-law, St. Petersburg-raised Michael Lynche, rise to the top four contestants on Fox TV's blockbuster singing competition American Idol. So when a technical glitch Tuesday brought an early end to the weekly Idol screening at Tradewinds Christian Church — forcing dozens of Lynche's friends and fellow church members to hurry home and finish watching his performance on a crucial week — Angelelli was jovial and upbeat, despite the hitch.
"Here's what successful people do . . . you hear good things, and you focus on that," said Angelelli, preparing to burn out his BlackBerry voting more than 600 times for Lynche after Tuesday's episode. "Because, let's be honest, life happens."
Angelelli's cool reaction was even more impressive, considering how much the Tampa Bay area is counting on Lynche to survive this week's elimination episode — allowing him to return to St. Petersburg on Friday for a whirlwind slate of activities taped for the top-rated show. From city officials eager to see the Pier in a glitzy concert showcase to educators hoping to tout a successful alum from a sometimes troubled school, there's a host of hometown fans pinning their own hopes on Lynche's achievements.
The beefy singer seemed to feel it all the way in Los Angeles, telling Idol host Ryan Seacrest, "You have the pressure of your family and your city really wanting you to get in the top three," he said, "You have that on your back and your heart and soul. . . . I'm trying to bring it home to my city — St. Pete."
It wasn't always this way. When Lynche, 26, first made the top 24 Idol contestants in February, students and teachers at Gibbs High School seemed to just be catching wind of his success.
But walk the halls these days, and you'll see a forest of blue fliers announcing the weekly Idol viewing party at Tradewinds church. Separate notes urge students and teachers to rally votes behind the kid who once belted selections from musicals from the stage of the St. Petersburg school's Pinellas County Center for the Arts program.
And as Lynche prepares to learn tonight whether he'll make Idol's top three, students and teachers can't help hoping a little of his success will burnish the school, stung by its status as the first Pinellas County high school to earn an F grade in FCAT testing.
"It feels like there's a buzz in the school … and it may help how people look at us in the community," said Keven Renken, theater department chairman, who noted an uptick in students asking to audition late for the PCCA's programs after Lynche began to do well. "It can't help but make us shine a bit better."
City officials, who have sent e-mail blasts and posted signs urging residents to vote for Lynche, hope Idol's cameras will highlight a floundering landmark. "I selected the Pier (for Lynche's possible public concert Friday) because the Pier needs some good news," said Mayor Bill Foster. "If I get to pick a spot for a 10-minute commercial for the city, the Pier is where I'd place the money shots."
This inspiration thing is something Lynche's father-in-law swears by. At Tradewinds' church Tuesday, he pointed out a friend with cancer who has found new energy in tracking the singer's progress. He roars with laughter while recalling a 94-year-old accquaintance who votes hundreds of times each week.
"They're admiring not only what he's doing, but how he carries himself," said Angelelli, who keeps clips of pop star Elton John complimenting Lynche on his BlackBerry for ready replay (John said on The View that Lynche had a "god-given voice").
Angelelli, 53, and his wife, Laura, 52, met Lynche when he was attending Gibbs with their daughter, Christa, who was studying the technical side of theater. The young couple eventually settled into a romance, getting married on Snell Isle in 2006.
Lynche's plans for a football career at the University of Central Florida were cut short by the illness of his mother, Michele, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2004 after he had moved back to St. Petersburg from college to care for her. (Michele Lynche was a community columnist for the St. Petersburg Times.)
That's when music took hold, as the guitar playing and singing he had used to cope with his mother's death developed enough that he was ready to leave a teaching job at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in St. Petersburg and seek stardom in New York, Angelelli said.
These days, American Idol plays a big role in the Angelellis' lives. They visited their daughter and son-in-law in Los Angeles at the end of March, when Lynche sang India Arie's Ready for Love. And Laura Angelelli helped her daughter through the birth of the couple's daughter Laila Rose in January while Lynche was auditioning during the show's infamous Hollywood Round.
"To see my daughter crying her eyes out on national TV, that was the toughest moment," said Angelelli, who was glued to the family TV on April 7 when Lynche was ejected from Idol, only to be saved by the judges. "He's a man with a dream. Facts don't matter when you're chasing a dream."
Mike Avato, pastor of the Tradewinds Christian Church, saw that dream develop up close five years ago when Lynche served as worship leader. Lynche still calls him to talk before every performance episode, as the pastor urges him to stay confident and humble.
"For a long time, we were telling him 'You would kill everybody on American Idol,' " said Avato, noting that Lynche's brother Marque had competed on the show in 2004 but was cut before reaching the Top 12. "Initially, he was worried about being labeled the American Idol guy. But he went to New York, got bumped around a bit and saw the advantages to doing the show.
"We sent him out with a lot of love, and now he's ready to conquer the world."
Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or [email protected]