A buzz began to overtake Brandon and Valrico last week.
Drivers spotted the message on marquees along State Road 60. A banner hung in front of a new building on Lakewood Drive. Posters draped a white Honda in the Valrico Walmart parking lot. A congratulatory message splattered in shoe polish covered a van.
All offered the same sentiment.
"Good lucky Jeremy. Congratulations Jeremy. We Jeremy."
Valrico's Jeremy Rosado had earned his way into the top 13 on American Idol and folks were taking notice.
"At first, we started spreading the word, passing out fliers," said Jesus Rosado, Jeremy's 30-year-old brother. "But after last week, he took it to a different level. Now they're asking us for fliers, asking us for banners."
Millions of people watch Idol every week, listening intently, critiquing pitch and range and voting for their favorites.
In the zeal to choose who's great and who's terrible, they may forget that every contestant is someone's child, someone's sibling, someone's friend.
For Jeremy, those special relationships crystallized at the Brandon Ale House Wednesday night. Nearly 100 people crammed into one side of the restaurant to root for the 19-year-old Durant High graduate and Hillsborough Community College student who reached the Hollywood finals after his fifth audition for the show.
Sixteen flat-panel televisions typically devoted to basketball and football were tuned to host Ryan Seacrest and judges Steven Tyler, Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez, who affectionately calls Rosado "Jer Bear."
It was Lopez who saved Jeremy from elimination March 1, making him a "wildcard pick" and allowing him to compete another week. Now his burgeoning fan club sat in rapt attention, hoping he could make the most of his second chance.
"I get chills when I think of all the love and support," said Jeremy's mother, Wendy Ocasio. "It's allowed me to see how wonderful people out there can be."
The tension of the contest surprised and amazed and tortured Jesus, who recalled how his little brother would sing "all the time," his voice rising from a first-floor bathroom and breaking the solitude of a second-floor bedroom.
"It was to the point of annoyance," Jesus said. "But now when I talk to him, I say, 'sing a little bit for me.'
"It's been nerve-racking. It's been crazy. I told him, 'Just come home, I can't take it anymore.' He said, 'Don't worry about it. Just trust in the Lord.' "
Faith fills the core of Jeremy's aspirations. His family and friends, many of whom join the family at Life Changing International Ministry on Lithia-Pinecrest Road on Sundays, speak of "God's plan" when telling how he auditioned so many times but kept trying.
They wear white T-shirts with a picture of Jeremy on the front and a Bible verse on the back, Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Whether those words would prove prophetic for Jeremy remained to be seen. Parents quietly buzzed during the show while little kids pushed the cue ball back and forth on a pool table — but they roared with approval when Jeremy appeared on the screen.
While the six women performed Whitney Houston songs, the seven men all had to sing Stevie Wonder songs, and Jeremy appeared to have the biggest challenge in trying to recraft Wonder's Ribbon in the Sky using a silky voice that easily slides into falsettos.
Jesus stood as Jeremy started. The crowd roared as he gained momentum. Jesus bounced around and pumped his fist when Jeremy hit his high notes and everyone stood and cheered as he finished.
Everyone but Jackson, the Idol judge who said Jeremy's performance wasn't believable.
"Why would Randy say that?" one fan bemoaned.
On Thursday, a smaller but equally enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Ale House for the results show. Once again, Jeremy found himself facing elimination.
Viewer votes determined the "bottom two," and then the judges decided who would go home: Jeremy or Elise Testone, a 28-year-old Charleston, S.C., woman who drew scant praise from the judges for her rendition of Houston's I'm Your Baby Tonight.
Rosado fans stood and held their breath, a few fanning away tears. They hoped Lopez again would save their favorite son, but it wasn't to be. Lopez said Jeremy had a voice that touches people, but announced that his dream had ended.
"He's still our American Idol," Ocasio said as she dabbed at her eyes. "I loved seeing him enjoy himself so much. He loved every second. I know he has no regrets.
"We just want him to come home so we can celebrate and love on him."
Jeremy walked away saying he just wanted to be able to inspire people with his singing. Maybe he didn't achieve that goal with all of America, but 2,534 miles east of Hollywood, a bar full of folks teemed with the kind of inspiration that comes not from words, but from love.
That's all I'm saying.