After hosting months of "American Idol" viewings at home in Middlebury, some family friends of Katie Stevens moved the party to Los Angeles last week.
Penny Albini and her daughters, Maria Elaina, 19, and Julia, 15, took the week off from school and other activities and flew to L.A. to watch from the first row of the studio audience as Stevens impressed the judges with her version of "Let It Be" and vaulted out of the bottom three vote-getters.
"They said that we were their good-luck charm," Penny Albini said Friday by phone from LAX as the trio waited to board the flight back.
The Albinis have been as involved as they can be from three time zones away. Stevens watched one early episode this season at their house before heading to L.A., and the Albinis have hosted viewing parties for friends and neighbors during every episode featuring Stevens since.
In L.A., they did some shopping and some sightseeing and got to spend a little quality time with Stevens, 17, a senior at Pomperaug High School in Southbury.
"We did go out to dinner with Katie two or three nights," Penny Albini said. "She's so busy during the day: She's got to go to school; she has to go to rehearsal; they're shooting commercials."
Despite Stevens' star turn, and plenty of attention in public from well-wishers, Albini said Middlebury's local hero hasn't changed.
"She is still so sweet," Albini said. "Two months in Hollywood, you could become a real diva if you let it get to your head, but she saw us and came running up. That's what I'm the happiest about, is that she's still Katie. It's beautiful; it really is."
Stevens was in particularly good spirits during dinner at Maggiano's Little Italy after the show last Tuesday, having nailed the Beatles' song.
"She was on Cloud 9," Albini said.
So were the Albinis. "Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi happened to be eating at the same restaurant, Albini said, and came over to say hi. The next night, at a steak house, they hobnobbed with other "Idol" contestants, including Casey James, Andrew Garcia and "Big Mike" Lynche. Penny and Julia even took a picture with Simon Cowell after Wednesday's show.
"He was just very nice," Penny Albini said. "You see him on TV, and he sounds like he's so rude and mean, but he's really not."
This week, it's back to school — with plenty of make-up work — for Julia, a freshman at Pomperaug, and Maria Elaina, a first-year student at Simmons College in Boston. Their mother, mindful that Stevens turned in her best performance yet with the Albinis in the audience, was willing to reprise her role as good-luck charm.
"I did suggest I could fly back for next week, if need be," Penny Albini said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times