Desiree Eddy cooks for the folks who crowd the Country Folks Restaurant on “American Idol” night, but she doesn’t let that keep her from the telephone.
Dialing as fast as she can, Eddy figures she can vote 600 times for local contestant Kristy Lee Cook — if the toll-free phone lines don’t jam up, that is.
“We stay up and vote non-stop,” said Eddy, who has to get up long before dawn to start the grill for breakfast. “She comes from such a small town that we have to vote twice as hard to keep her in.”
The Deer Creek Valley around this small rural crossroads only has about 3,000 people, but on “Idol” night, many of them are poised to vote as many times as they can for Cook. Country Folks owners Alicia and Stan Kinsey, Eddy’s mom and dad, keep the restaurant open past their normal 3 p.m. closing so folks who don’t have satellite TV can come and watch; for those who can’t, they put Cook’s voting number on the reader board outside.
“It just kind of grew,” said Eddy. “Now it’s huge. The customers are really cool. They come about 7 and order so we can get everything out by 8 o’clock and we all can watch. It’s like family.”
Selma is an unincorporated community on the edge of the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest; the community was in the heart of Oregon’s gold rush in the 1850s and the timber boom after World War II. Both have gone bust, leaving Selma with a handful of businesses mostly focused on drawing passers-by off the two-lane blacktop, and a scattering of rural homes ranging from mansions to singlewides. Horses, llamas and goats graze in grassy fields and snowcapped mountains ring the valley.
In 2002, Selma feared for its very life as the Biscuit fire, the biggest in the nation that year at 500,000 acres, bore down.
Born in the Seattle area, Cook, 24, moved to a log house here as a 14-year-old, when her parents, Larry and Carlene Cook, were looking for a place that split the distance between Reno, Nev., where one daughter was a swimmer at the University of Nevada, and Eugene, Ore., where a son was a wide receiver at the University of Oregon.
None would comment for this story because “Idol” has confidentiality agreements from family and friends of contestants.
The Grants Pass Daily Courier has followed Cook’s career, reporting that she got her big break in 1998, when she opened at a nearby music festival for Glen Campbell. That led to a record deal and an album. Her dad, a softball coach at a junior college in Northern California, told the newspaper that after failing an “Idol” audition in San Diego Kristy sold a horse to pay for a second try in Philadelphia, where her rendition of “Amazing Grace” got her in.
Back home, Cook rides horses and stops in for country fried steak or cinnamon roll French toast at the Country Folks Restaurant, where she always sits in a corner booth, said Eddy.
At the neighboring Clear Creek Family Practice, Dr. Katherine Mechling doesn’t watch TV, but follows Cook’s fortunes in the newspaper. Her 14-year-old niece, Audrey Mechling, doesn’t know Cook, but was thrilled and surprised to see her on TV during the Philadelphia auditions for “Idol.”
“We were like, ‘I bet she’s not going to be good,’ but then she made it,” said Audrey, pulling off a set of soapy gloves and putting down a scouring pad to talk. “It’s so cool, because no one had ever heard of Selma before.”
At the Crystal Kaleidoscope, owner Louis Swisher has been undaunted by the tough criticism leveled at Cook by judge Simon Cowell.
“When he does say something good,” Swisher said, “it means a lot more.”