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Originally published May 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 8, 2007 at 2:00 AM

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Blake Lewis is no "Idol" come lately

If it weren't for "American Idol," Bothell's Blake Lewis would be beat-boxing in obscurity...catting, gigging here and there just...

Seattle Times TV writer

On TV

"American Idol," 8 p.m. Tuesdays and 9 p.m. Wednesdays on FOX.

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If it weren't for "American Idol," Bothell's Blake Lewis would be beat-boxing in obscurity — scatting, gigging here and there just to pay the bills.

But now he belongs to America — a name, a face, a falsetto beloved by hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of "Blaker Girls," "Blaker Guys" and just simple fans.

And yet, alongside the bubbly, pre-pubescent crowd that crafts "I [Heart] Blake" signs is a less-hysterical, more weathered group: local indie musicians who don't "I [Heart]" anyone but who claim Lewis, aka B-Shorty, as one of their own.

So they text message one another after an "Idol" show: Did you see Blake? He killed.

They break away from band rehearsals to watch TV.

"We'll run upstairs to watch, and when we think he's done an excellent job the mood of the rehearsal really changes," says Kent Halvorsen, a Seattle keyboardist.

They turn down gigs on Tuesday nights to catch the "Idol" performance shows. Except when they can't. Local guitarist Ari Joshua Zucker was teaching last Tuesday, so his student's father dropped off a tape of the show.

On TV

"American Idol," 8 p.m. Tuesdays and 9 p.m. Wednesdays on FOX.

And when James Whiton, an upright bass player, was doing his sound check one recent Tuesday, he multitasked: voting five times for Lewis.

"I was setting up my stuff and [friend] John texted me the number [to call in and vote]. I was on my break, and I kept redialing and redialing. Blake's a true musician, a pure musician and that's why it's exciting to see."

To anyone who's been watching (some 30 million people tune into "Idol" each episode), Lewis comes across as a guy used to being on stage. He's never looked nervous — or sheepish. He's never sounded "too nasaly" or, to use one of the judges' favorite put-downs, "too pitchy" or like someone singing karaoke.

What Lewis has done is deliver great, if not exceptional, singing week after week (only Melinda Doolittle has basked in more praise from judges Paula, Randy and Simon). But Lewis, hands down, has taken more risks. When it's time to look back at this sixth season of "American Idol," included with the inevitable Sanjaya banter will be fond recollections of Lewis' deconstruction of that Bon Jovi song on May 1.

The basic 411 on the guy who sang that 311 song: a genuinely nice guy who's been living with his parents while seriously pursuing a music career. He's a pop-music fan who sings, beat-boxes and plays the piano and guitar across a wide spectrum of genres including electronica, hip-hop, jazz fusion, world funk and a kind of experimental music described by his circle as having an "emotional" sound.

According to local musicians who've played with him, Lewis used to perform regularly at Nectar and hosted The Digital Lounge shows at ToST, both in Seattle. He's emceed at Summer Meltdown in Darrington. But he largely honed his reputation, and made connections with various musicians, at the open-mic nights at the Jet Deck bar/club on Everett's Paine Field.

"Anybody in Seattle has probably jammed with him at a live show," says Steve Dorn, who owned the now-defunct Jet Deck. "They all know each other, and Blake is so in the mix."

And now, he's so in the spotlight, just one of four contestants vying to Stay Alive (it's Bee Gees song night tonight). Friends joke if he were to return home now he'd likely not be able to play anything smaller than the Moore Theatre. In fact, one future Lewis venue that's already been determined is the Tacoma Dome on July 27, when he and the other nine finalists perform as part of the national American Idols Live concert tour.

Lewis' musician friends say success couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy, which helps explain their thrill.

"There's absolutely not been something this big, in my scene," says Halvorsen, the keyboardist. "The last time I remember everyone talking about the same thing was when Maktub's second album, 'Khronos,' came out. To have an underground scene be given this much exposure, it can't get bigger than that for us."

B-Shorty guest vocals on the upcoming "Cyclonic Steel" album by KJ Sawka of Seattle (release date: June 26). But if he makes it into the top three, Lewis will return home quickly for an "American Idol" hometown visit that's likely to include a couple of free concerts to be taped as part of an "Idol" show.

"Whether he wins or not I think he's already been added to the long list of Seattle musicians who've helped showcase what a talented and eclectic group we are," says Fred Northup Jr., producer of "The Local Music Show" with John Richards on the Seattle Channel.

And if Lewis were to win, locals who've played with him say he's too savvy a guy to let his music, his style get blanderized by the "Idol" machine.

"If I know Blake, he's going to be very careful that he doesn't get packed up and reprocessed. He'll be sure to represent himself," says Whiton, interviewed from Fort Worth, Texas, last week as he toured with the Eric McFadden Trio.

"If he wins second or third, I'll be more happy for him," says friend and musician Zucker of local band AriSawkaDoria. "That means I'll be able to keep playing with him."

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

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