Mike Wild, manager of CiCi's Pizza in Fort Oglethorpe, has to chuckle when he thinks about the sudden success of his weekend employee, Lauren Alaina Suddeth.
"Now I have thoughts like, 'I may have asked the next 'American Idol' to sweep crumbs up off the floor," he joked.
Wild is one of several local venue managers who knew Lauren Alaina Suddeth before she became the female front-runner on Season 10 of "American Idol." They knew the 16-year-old before she shared a spontaneous duet with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, before she sang weekly in 26 million homes.
Suddeth advanced last week to the fourth and final Hollywood Round of "American Idol," which will air Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Fox. The Top 20 semifinalists will be revealed Thursday night.
Suddeth, daughter of Kristy and J.J. Suddeth of Rossville, honed her talent on stages from North Georgia to Nashville's Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.
She sang every Wednesday night for four years at Magoo's on Ringgold Road until she qualified for the Hollywood round on "AI." She has also performed at Sing It or Wing It in downtown Chattanooga.
Suddeth was the first winner of the WinnieStar youth talent contest at Lake Winnepesaukah in 2009.
"She had a very mature stage presence for her young age," recalls Talley Green, Lake Winnie spokeswoman. "It was clear she was going places; we just didn't know it would be 'American Idol.'"
Jason Phibbs, owner of Acoustic Cafe in Ringgold, Ga., said Suddeth sang in his venue a half-dozen times before she appeared on "American Idol."
"We didn't know she was auditioning in Nashville. Her last show was right before Christmas, and we knew something was up, but they were really tight-lipped," said Phibbs.
Phibbs confirmed rumors that an "AI" crew had been to his cafe to tape a segment after the teen made it to Hollywood.
Phibbs said he booked Suddeth last year after her dad came in and asked him to let the teen sing. He listened to her CDs, asked if she could draw a crowd, then gave her a shot.
"She brought in about 100 family and friends," he said. "I thought it was incredible she was 15," he said of her performance.
Backing her on four of those gigs at Acoustic Cafe was 25-year-old guitarist Josh Pettyjohn, along with Suddeth's dad on guitar.
"She's got a great personality and a great voice to go with it," said Pettyjohn. "She can work a crowd. I think she's a good performer for her age. It doesn't matter what the style; she can do a wide variety of music."
Wild agrees Suddeth can wow a crowd. He watched her work the floor while on the job at CiCi's.
"She was always singing around the store, even while stocking the salad bar," he said. "People noticed her."
Although Suddeth hasn't worked there since "American Idol" began airing, Wild said customers still come in hoping they might get a peek at the teen singer.
"There's not a day goes by that someone doesn't ask about her. She's a special girl," Wild said.