Fans of Lauren Alaina Suddeth are rallying behind the singer with their votes as well as fundraising efforts to help her family's travel expenses.
Lauren, Rossville's teen singing sensation, is a finalist and judges' front-runner on Fox network's "American Idol." Should the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School sophomore continue to advance, she could remain in Los Angeles as many as 12 weeks.
"Idol" pays for one parent to stay with a contestant who is a minor. All other family members or friends must get to LA on their own dime.
"J.J. [Suddeth's father] told me a flight costs about $478 round-trip," said Jennifer Lawhorn, owner of Magoo's Restaurant. Lauren sang weekly at Magoo's for four years before auditioning for "American Idol."
"The cab from the airport to the motel is about $60. A motel room for $200 a night is the cheapest he said he has found, and then there are meals and other expenses on top of that," added Lawhorn.
To help Lauren's family be part of her once-in-a-lifetime experience, friends, co-workers and fans are chipping in to help pay travel expenses to Hollywood tapings.
Donna Jakubowski, community relations spokeswoman for BASF, where J.J. Suddeth is a process technician, said the same excitement and pride that has swept through Chattanooga over Lauren's achievement is evident at BASF.
"Our Chattanooga site employees have generously proffered moral support, donations to help the family defray the costs associated with travel to California and of course their votes each week to bring Lauren Alaina closer to realizing her dream of becoming the next American Idol," she said.
Fireball Music and Magoo's Restaurant have partnered to create a line of fan merchandise imprinted with a photo of the singer taken by Ryan Long and the slogan, "Vote Lauren Alaina."
Sales of these T-shirts, buttons and water bottles are designated to send Holly Witherow to an "Idol" taping, according to Karen Alayne of Fireball Music.
Fans of the show will remember Witherow is Lauren's cousin, whose back story about her battle with cancer was featured in the Nashville auditions episode. Lauren credited her cousin with encouraging her singing career.
The T-shirts sell for $20, buttons are $5 and water bottles are $2. They may be bought at either Magoo's, 3658 Ringgold Road, or Fireball Music, 5935 Hixson Pike.