SAN DIEGO, CALIF.
Decked out in beige python-skin boots, funky black hair and eyeliner, Adam Lambert looked just a tiny bit different visiting his childhood San Diego haunts than he used to. “He had freckles and strawberry blonde hair!” says Alison Bretches, his classmate at the Metropolitan Educational Theater in Poway, Calif. But, she adds, one thing hasn’t changed: “He was always amazingly gifted.” During his whirlwind homecoming on May 8, Lambert, 27, performed a rousing rendition of the national anthem at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar and returned to his high school stadium—packed to the rafters with “Glamberts,” as his fans call themselves—for the first time since graduation. “I’m in shock,” Lambert confessed to PEOPLE at the end of his 12-hour day. “I didn’t expect this much of a turnout. I feel so much positive support and love.”
“When I left this city, I left here [heart]broken,” Gokey told PEOPLE, referring to the death of his wife, Sophia, 27, 10 months ago during surgery for a congenital heart defect. “I came back [today] to have the most amazing day.” And that’s exactly what he did May 8. At the church where he served as musical director, Faith Builders International Ministries, Gokey, 29, was reunited with fellow Idol hopeful and friend Jamar Rogers, who made it through to the final 54 contestants with Gokey. “I’m so happy for him,” says Rogers. “I cried when he made it [to the final three]!” Gokey also threw out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game, performed such songs as Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)” before an audience of about 25,000 at the Summerfest grounds and caught up with his grandmother Dottie Stelter, whom he hadn’t seen since February. “He’s so busy!” says Stelter, adding how overjoyed she is for her grandson. “He has such a fantastic voice, but I’m proud of him as a person. He’s good-hearted.”
For Kris Allen and his wife of seven months, Katy, leaving his hometown of Conway (population roughly 60,000) for American Idol has presented many surprises. Not all of them have been great: “Our first run-in with the paparazzi scared [Katy] a little bit,” he says. “But we’re getting used to it.” However, there was nothing but love during his May 8 homecoming. On three hours’ sleep, Allen, 23, spent his morning giving interviews to local TV and radio stations and performing for smaller audiences, before finishing the day with a parade through Conway and singing some of his best-known Idol songs (including “Falling Slowly” and “Man in the Mirror”) for an audience of 22,000 at Simon Park. “You can tell from the way he sings and acts that he’s very humble,” says 14-year-old Alexis LaPlante, who attends his church. “I’ve never seen a contestant on American Idol as humble and sweet as he is.” With Katy by his side (“She’s always been there for me”), Allen is having a blast. “Two months ago I could never have thought this would be happening to me, to be so close to having a music career,” he says. “It’s a lot of pressure, but a lot of fun too.”