Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup
May 15, 2010 12:00 AM

Tears came to Lee DeWyze‘s eyes more than five times during his visit to his native Chicago on Friday.

“It was so intense,” said the American Idol hopeful, who is one of the remaining three contestants along with Crystal Bowersox and Casey James.

During a packed day full of emotional overflow, DeWyze, 24, rekindled with old teachers at his Forest View District 214 High School, family members like his brother Mike — and also performed for over 41,000 at Arlington Park Racetrack.

Starting his day around 7 a.m. with a trip to the Fox Chicago News where he read the weather report — … “If music doesn’t work out I can be a weather man,” he joked — the singer followed up with a few quick stops at local radio stations, then a Chicago Cubs game, where he threw out the first pitch. Next up: a stop at his high school, where he told the current students, “People told me ‘no’ so many times, but things are worth trying.”

RELATED: Read all about Crystal Bowersox’s Ohio homecoming.

RELATED: Read all about Casey James’s Texas homecoming.

“I’ve never been more proud,” his mom, Kathleen, told PEOPLE in his hometown of Mt. Prospect, Ill. “He’s come a long way. It’s like a fairy tale.”

After a chaotic parade and quick visit to his old job, Mt. Prospect Paint, where the singer couldn’t help but answer customer calls and display how he used to mix paint, DeWyze headed to his final destination — and thousands of fans awaited his nine-song acoustic set.

“This is unbelievable,” he said as the screaming crowd at the Arlington Park Racetrack held up signs emblazoned with encouragements like “Lee DeWyze me crazy” and “Cougars 4 DeWyze.”

But the day wasn’t without a few bumps.

“We’re on our way up to the stage with about 30 on an elevator and it stops,” says DeWyze, who had paced around nervously just minutes before the day’s last performance at the racetrack. “Finally we got out,” he continues. “Today has been surprise after surprise, but this is honestly the best day of my life!” –Jessica Herndon

Tell us: Who do you think will win American Idol?

Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup

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