Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Coming Home With Phillip Phillips—My Encounter with an American Idol

It wasn't supposed to happen—

By some miracle, a dear friend of mine had managed to get tickets for us to see Phillip Phillips for only ten dollars a piece! Okay, so it was in a tiny venue in her old meth neighborhood, where shop owners are routinely held up at gunpoint for what little their cash registers contained...

But at the last minute, my babysitter fell through. So it looked like we weren't going after all.

Then my husband, who'd taken off work for this event, looked me straight in the eye and said, "You get in that car and go pick up those kids from school, baby—we're going to make this happen no matter what."

There's a reason I married that man!

And that's exactly what I did—I fetched my children from first grade and dragged them with us, without tickets, to go see Phillip Phillips in a rare public appearance just before his CD came out. When we arrived at the front door, Katie (who organized the event) took one look at my adorable six-year-old twins and said, "I can't deny those cherub faces! Come on in—I'm a single mom and I know what it's like to have a babysitter fall through. Just remember this night for me, okay?"

Oh my god, how on earth could I ever forget? I hugged Katie right then and there, then took my brood inside. There we were among a few handfuls of people (only 50 in all!), about to hear American Idol Phil Phillips in a private "preshow" before a benefit concert for breast cancer research. 

As Phillip Phillips walked on stage in faded jeans and an old pair of slippers, he looked more like somebody's cousin who "happened" to show up on a back porch to strum guitar on a warm evening. Completely relaxed, he greeted the crowd like a bunch of old friends, then launched into an acoustic version of a song called "Does That Make Me Crazy." And this is what killed me—without floodlights, billows of dry ice, or glitzy choreography and costumes, Phillip Phillips sang that song as though his life depended on it. HE JUMPED OFF A CLIFF FOR THAT SONG!! Even though no one in Hollywood or the media was watching, he belted that tune as if his soul were on fire.

And my children? They listened happily as my husband and I hoisted them up and explained that they were viewing "a real rock star." But it was when Phillip Phillips launched into his hit single "Home" that I felt as if my heart had broken wide open. Once again, with only a handful of people watching, he sang that song for all he was worth. And my friend and I danced—she holding one of my sons and I holding the other—we were absolutely hypnotized by his words. Why? BECAUSE WE HAD LIVED THEM. By this time in our multi-decade friendship, we both knew what it was like to be so poor you have to live in your car—to escape in the middle of the night from a so-called "Mr. Right" because he tried to take a swing at you—to live in crack ghettos because that's all you can afford. And we had made it through the rain and lived to tell the tale. More than that—we had become true "soul friends," what the Irish call "Anam Cara," who'd learned how to be anchors for one another through the twists and turns of fate. And I'll never forget the sight of her swaying with my child to the music as Phillip Phillips sang these words:

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m gonna make this place your home... 

Even now, I tear up as I think of that moment. It was bigger than Phillip Phillips—perhaps bigger than even music itself. It was a moment when I looked into my friend's eyes and realized we'd made it through all the pain—and we had made it home. All of us, my dear friend and my husband and my children and I—we were healthy and happy and HOME in each other's souls. And in that moment, NOTHING ELSE ON EARTH MATTERED TO ME. It was a gift of grace that will live in my heart for as long as I am blessed to walk on this earth...

Yet to my surprise, Phillip Phillips wasn't finished with his generosity. After playing a few numbers, he offered to take photos with members of the small audience. My boys patiently waited as a gaggle of girls lined up and giggled while he took group pictures with them. And then Phillip Phillips spotted my two boys and waved at them to come over.  Could it be true? Was he willing to take a private shot with my twin boys? Indeed, he gave them each a high five, chatted with them for a minute, and then let me take a picture. Here's the proof:

Stunned, all I could think of was that I really ought thank him for being so dear to the youngest members of his audience that night! So I sucked up my courage and walked up to Phillip Phillips and extended my hand to say "Thank you." To my total surprise, he grabbed my hand and gazed into my eyes and said, "Pleased to meet you. Thanks for coming out tonight."

Seriously? Like he was some struggling singer-songwriter who hadn't been voted the American Idol by millions of fans? Clearly, it seemed his fame hadn't settled into his soul yet—and maybe for this unassuming star it never will. Because the overwhelming impression I got from Phillip Phillips was that he possesses a unique authenticity of spirit that follows him wherever he goes. And for just one night, on that unfamiliar road that we all find ourselves traveling—sometimes even in the dark—it made me feel completely at home.


  1. Diane, thank you for sharing such a touching moment with us readers. What a wonderful full circle moment to have with your best friend and family! Home is family and friends, but it's also finding your way to the place in your soul and your life that is beyond the darkness, which you obviously have done. This post, as all of your lovely writing, truly touched me, and made me feel very happy for you. It was definitely a transcending moment that found the pulse of meaning within the music. Plus, your boys are simply adorable!!!

  2. Oh thank you, Lori--your gracious words always keep me going. Truly, it was such a transcendent evening that could have fallen through in a heartbeat, but instead felt as if it had been magically arranged by the angels. I'm so glad you enjoyed it : )

  3. Hello Diane,
    Due to some very caring and diligent fans of Phillip I just noticed this on my twitter page. Decided to stop and take a gander,) First, what a beautiful experience w/you, your family, friend, and, of course, Phillip. Those 3,yes 3, angelic faces in the picture above tell the entire story. As a writer, I wrote about Phillip right after his big Idol win. Just knew from first glance this was one very rare and special human being. In case you have never visited this particular site where the article can be found you should check it out. It's the #1 place where anybody who loves Phillip can go and keep up w/everything going on in his explosive career. Pam is so committed and gives her all to keeping the news fresh and current. I've included a link where you can also see what I said about him back then and how closely it aligns w/how you describe he still is. Good for you and your husband, friend, and little boys, that you got to see/hear this star in the making (up close and personal)in the best of situations. Thank you for sharing the intimacy of the magical moment...poignant and priceless. I feel certain you and yours will carry this memory and Phillip in your heart always~ Best to you, Pz~ http://www.pphillipsonline.com/phillip-walks-to-his-own-unique-beat/

  4. Thank you for your kind comments, PZ, and all the info--you've certainly chosen a generous star to support. I just heard his new album last night and instantly fell in love with it : )

  5. What a wonderful story! And how awesome is it that you got to share it with your amazing family and best friend? "Home" is such a beautiful song and you're so lucky to have heard Phillips perform it live! :)

  6. Believe me, I felt truly blessed!! And YOU are quite the soul inspiration too, Sophie--hope this Thanksgiving you are surrounded by love & laughter & people who cherish your bright spirit : )

  7. I simply love reading your encounter with him. It's so heartwarming and inspiring. Thank you for sharing the story of your amazing experience.

  8. Thank you—when I read this again it's all still so fresh in my mind because he was so approachable! I felt really lucky to interact with him at this early stage in his career : )

  9. At the age of 90 I feel priveleged to have lived long enough to have followed this young man and to have enjoyed his music.

  10. Yes, he really does appeal to all ages! My young twin boys love him, and of course, I cried when he won American Idol (I thought the song "Home" was so beautiful). Thank you for stopping by & for your comment <3