When it comes to finding stars, few people have the same eye for talent as Simon Cowell. For nine seasons, the "American Idol" creator has combed the nation's best and brightest young talent, building careers and crushing dreams along the way.
But River Forest entrepreneur Denise Henderson can claim she's a step ahead of Cowell. Her baby food company, Square One Organics, landed a baby coup in 2008 when she convinced local musician Lee DeWyze to record a promotional album.
Little did she know that America would watch as Cowell and the rest of the "Idol" judges would select 24-year-old Mount Prospect native DeWyze to compete on the show's latest season.
Now, she's marketing her rapidly expanding organic baby foods with DeWyze's music.
She hardly conducted the same kind of national talent search to find DeWyze that it took "Idol" to find him.
Turns out Henderson's husband played in DeWyze's band, so there were no auditions to get in on the baby-food-marketing action.
"Lee didn't bat an eye," Henderson said. "He was like, 'Oh I love it, let's work on that.'"
The goal was simply to record an album of catchy children's music that Square One could use to market its products, handing them out to promote the brand. But as DeWyze has gotten further and further on the "Idol" (he's competing in the top six this week), she's started to trumpet his involvement with the brand on her Web site and to customers.
"We made a children's CD, and who knew we were gonna be so fancy as to have an American Idol contestant on it?" she said. "He is now, obviously, on the home page."
DeWyze's musical career has strong roots in Oak Park, as well: his two other pre-"Idol" albums, So I'm Told and Slumberland, were recorded at Ryan McGuire's home studio on the village's northwest side for local label WuLi Records.
"We signed him to a three-album deal, but we had to let him out of it in order for him to compete," said McGuire, who also plays drums with DeWyze's band and on the Square One album.
McGuire released DeWyze's most recent album, Slumberland, this year, and they plan on touring behind the album as soon as the "Idol" contract is up, he said. When that could happen, however, is unclear: Some oddsmakers are ranking DeWyze towards the top of this year's "Idol" class.
Reality TV contestants are kept well under wraps by notoriously suspense-goading producers, so DeWyze wasn't available to talk about his Oak Park-River Forest connections with the Journal.
However, Henderson said her husband has snuck in a few texts to the reality TV star, and she and her family are all rooting for him from home.
"I know how lovely he is and I know how talented he is," she said. "I'm really more into it when he looks like he's really absorbing it, when he's smiling and he looks so happy."
Oh, and she's mashing "redial" on her phone to vote for him every week, too.
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By BEN MEYERSON, Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest