La. 'American Idol' finalist to parade Saturday in his hometown

New Orleans, La. - Joshua Ledet is scheduled to ride in a noon parade Saturday through his hometown of Westlake, near the Texas state line.

The 20-year-old top-three finalist is also expected to take center stage at a pep rally at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles and perform for more than 7,000 fans. Joining Ledet will be his cousin, zydeco singer and musician Brandon Ledet, and Louisiana's Grammy-winning zydeco musician Terrance Simien.

"God has blessed him beyond measure with talent," said Megan Monsour Hartman, marketing manager for the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau, one of the main sponsors of the concert. "We want him to leave southwest Louisiana feeling proud to call this place home."

After the pep rally, Ledet will make an appearance at Contraband Days, a pirate festival in Lake Charles celebrating the legacy of the pirate Jean Lafitte, and attend a funeral service for an uncle passed away during his run on "Idol."

"There have been a lot of things going on, but Josh has been able to rise above and move on," said Ledet's high school English teacher, Keri Burleigh, who has been a close family friend for more than 20 years. "He's amazingly grounded and humble."

Burleigh, who said she loves Ledet like one of her own children, said she sends Ledet text messages to keep him motivated.

"I tell him that God's got him in the palm of his hand, and whatever happens, God is taking care of him," Burleigh said.

Besides strong faith, Ledet has high school theater experience that Burleigh believes has been invaluable in the competition.

"His theater background - that art education that they always threaten to cut every time there are budget cuts - that has really been a vital part of it," she said. "It's allowed him to do some things the other contestants haven't been able to do."

Burleigh said Westlake High School, where she teaches, is one of only a few schools in the area with a theater program. It's run by Kerry Onxley, who owns a children's theater company in Lake Charles.

For the past two weeks, Ledet has been lavished with praise by the "Idol" judges - Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. Thursday night, he earned a standing ovation from the panel for the James Brown song, "It's a Man's World." His version of Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" was also well-received.

"When he performs, he moves people," Hartman said. "He gets to your emotional core, gives you a real spiritual awakening."

The other two finalists are bluesy 21-year-old pawn shop worker Phillip Phillips of Leesburg, Ga., and budding 16-year-old pop diva Jessica Sanchez of San Diego. Phillips and Sanchez also are returning home this weekend with "Idol" cameras following.

Hartman said the TV show, which is filmed in Los Angeles, doesn't finance the hometown events in an effort "to keep the competition fair and not influence results."

Businesses and residents in Westlake and neighboring communities have pooled money and resources to make Saturday a special homecoming. Hartman estimates Saturday's festivities will cost between $30,000 and $50,000 from the visitors bureau, local government and Visit Louisiana Coast, a Gulf Coast company established after the BP oil spill.

The 7,500 free tickets available for the pep rally were distributed in less than an hour, Hartman said. The convention and visitors bureau has been fielding calls from across the state all week from people offering support and wanting to volunteer.

The town of Westlake, a close-knit community before Ledet's "Idol" journey, is now even closer, Burleigh said.

"It's been neat to watch, to see everyone get behind Josh," she said. "You can't go anywhere without seeing Josh T-Shirts. I've got one of every color."

Tune in to Fox 8 News after NASCAR Saturday for a report from Lake Charles.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)