Local News

Crystal Lake, Lakewood host a day of celebrations for ‘American Idol’ contestant Grace Kinstler

‘She’s very inspiring,’ says a Crystal Lake Central High School junior who saw Kinstler perform Tuesday afternoon at the school

It was a busy day for Lakewood native and “American Idol” contestant Grace Kinstler, as hundreds gathered in Crystal Lake to watch a parade in her honor and then a performance outside RedTail Golf Club in Lakewood a few hours later.

Hundreds gathered along the route between Crystal Lake Central High School, where Kinstler attended, and the city’s downtown hoping to see the “American Idol” finalist.

The parade had tentatively been set for about 4 p.m. but actually took place about 5:45 p.m., after an event at Crystal Lake Central High School.

Sam Leon, a junior at Crystal Lake Central, said Kinstler, 20, was greeted by hundreds of students and teachers at the school when she arrived.

She played her original song, “Love Someone,” on the football field for the students, and then many music students, including Leon who is in a capella, performed “Eye of the Tiger,” together with Kinstler, he said.

“It was incredible,” Leon said. “We all sang together. It was really amazing to watch her perform. I’m overwhelmed.”

Kinstler left the school in a yellow convertible accompanied by a few others. Her route took her through downtown Crystal Lake, ending at the Raue Center for the Arts.

The last time Kinstler, currently a student at the Berklee College of Music, was in the area was back in February. She told the Northwest Herald Tuesday that coming back to a celebration for her made her feel blessed and honored.

Kinstler has been lauded by the judges for her confidence, but she said she still gets nervous before performing.

“I feel like when I go on stage, I just become a different person,” she said.

Business owners and residents alike were excited as they gathered in downtown Crystal Lake Tuesday afternoon to see the parade in Kinstler’s honor.

“Hopefully, everything won’t be a blur for her, and she’ll see that she has her hometown behind her,” Michelle Howell, owner of KaleidoScoops, said, as she painted the store’s windows in support of Kinstler Tuesday afternoon ahead of the parade.

Like many downtown businesses, Howell’s storefront was full of signs and the window painted with #TeamGrace. One of Howell’s signs also referenced Kinstler’s single “Love Someone,” which was released last week.

“How many little guys are going to go, ‘Oh, Grace, she was so good, I want to sing too?’” Howell said. “I foresee that the music programs are just going to get a huge influx of little kids who want to sing, just like Grace.”

Nicole Garringer, owner of Out of the Box, another downtown business, said the downtown business owners have been reminding each other to vote.

“[Kinstler’s] such an inspiration and has just done such a good job of being a great role model for everybody,” Garringer said.

Kinstler was one of three contestants selected Sunday to proceed to the show’s final round this coming Sunday. She and fellow contestants, Willie Spence and Chayce Beckham, each will perform a final time during the show’s grand finale, when the contest winner will be announced.

After the parade, Kinstler was given proclamations by both the Crystal Lake mayor and Lakewood village president. She also was given the Raue Center Sage Star Award.

The Sage Star award was a special award Raue employees came up with to celebrate Kinstler, said Amanda Flahive, education manager for the Raue Center of the Arts and program manager of Sage Studio, their in-house theater education program. Sage Studio students and their mothers helped decorate the front of the Raue for Kinstler’s celebration.

Flahive taught Kinstler, a former Sage Studio student, in their musical theater workshop program and an advanced acting class.

“I really wanted to do something that would commemorate this moment, not just for her, but for all of our Sage Studio kids,” Flahive said. “[It shows] when you really commit yourself and really go full out with your arts training, that this is how far you can get if you’re willing to get there.”

The first time Kinstler sang during a class, it was unforgettable, Flahive said.

“It was just literally this breathtaking talent standing in front of us,” she said.

Kinstler got an award of her own, Flahive said, and one will be kept in the Raue Center to for people to view as well.

“Just watching her work with a diverse group of students, and pulling back in her own voice and her own needs so that others can shine, that is what Grace is all about and that is why our community loves her so much,” said Kim Scherrer, Kinstler’s former choir teacher at Crystal Lake Central.

Kinstler also gave a concert at 6 p.m. at Lakewood’s RedTail Golf Club, which was filmed for a segment for the show’s finale.

Molly McDillon, an employee at the Out of the Box, said she lucked out on snagging a ticket to the sold-out event when a friend who had one could no longer attend. McDillon said the friend is letting her use the ticket.

“I’m so excited,” McDillon said.

Also among those heading to the concert was Sherry Branecki, a Crystal Lake resident of 20 years who said she knows Kinstler’s mother. Branecki also was getting ready to to watch the parade about 2:15 p.m. with her daughter, Alyssa, who is an avid “American Idol” fan, not missing an episode for many seasons of the show’s 19-year run.

Sherry Branecki’s son Dylan, 22, went to Central High School while Grace was there, too.

“All her passion is for her dad,” Branecki said of Kinstler’s late father, Mitch Kinstler, who died last year. “He’s looking down on her for sure. She’s awesome.”

Ashley Ciezadlo of Crystal Lake was excited to see someone from her hometown go on “American Idol.”

“I’ve been watching American Idol since I was 10,” Ciezadlo said at RedTail as she waited for the concert to start. “You wouldn’t expect them to come to your town.”

Ciezadlo said Kinstler has done really well so far.

“Her voice is beautiful,” she said.

Kinstler has found much success on the show since its season premiere in February, when she was the very last contestant to appear before the show’s judges: pop star Katy Perry, country singer Luke Bryan and singer-songwriter Lionel Richie. She sang “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & the Pips and a rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin that brought Bryan to tears.

“This is the first time in four years that someone singing has made me cry,” Bryan said.

Perry said Kinstler’s performance gave her “full body chills,” and Richie compared her with the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson. All three said they ranked her up with some of the best voices they ever heard on the show.

“She portrays herself as a very powerful woman,” Howell said. “She’s had some down times, with her dad passing and everything like that. But you know what? Nothing’s stopping her. It’s showing everybody, times may be tough, but you make the best of it and go with it.”

Kinstler has talked about her dad’s passing last year on the show and to the Northwest Herald. She sang the song “Father” by Demi Lovato in honor of him.

Cassie Buchman

Cassie Buchman

I cover Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Cary, Fox River Grove, Prairie Grove and Oakwood Hills for the Northwest Herald.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.