By People Staff
May 13, 2008 12:00 AM
Chris O'Meara/AP

American Idol‘s Syesha Mercado celebrated her homecoming Friday in a marathon 12-hour day that took her some 120 miles from Tampa, Fla., to her hometown Sarasota and back. It was a day crammed with performances, appearances, attention and recognition. But she made time for her two most important fans — her mom and dad.

“To: Mommy and Daddy. I love ya’ll!” she scribbled on a glossy photo of herself just before her final performance of the day, singing the national anthem for some 10,000 at a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, where she also signed autographs. “Thanks for raising me to be a strong woman!”

It was a rare quiet moment for Syesha on such an exuberant day. For Syesha, an Idol underdog with a fair share of bottom-three appearances, it all served as a deeply felt emotional booster. It was a chance to revel in the audience screams and signs she seldom can see from the Idol stage and reconnect with the fans, friends and family who motivate her during the tough times and ground her during the good times — like now.

“Oh my gosh, this is just a dream come true for me,” she tearfully proclaimed during a waterfront appearance in Bradenton, Fla., in front of some 1,100 fans, which included her parents, her two sisters and other family. “Just keep pressing toward whatever goal you have … It’s possible because I’m a living testament that dreams come true.”

The other remaining Idol contestants, David Cook and David Archuleta, also made trips home. –Amy GreenChris O’Meara/AP