Helena hits PR jackpot

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 17, 2005

How much positive press can one city garner?

If you’re Helena, Alabama, it’s a lot.

Three years ago, Helena’s Vonetta Flowers wowed the world by winning bobsled gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics. She became the first black woman to win gold at the Winter Olympics, and the first Alabamian to win any kind of Winter Olympic medal.

Fast forward three years. We don’t know if Helena’s Bo Bice will be the next American Idol, but there’s no doubt he’s America’s most famous rocker right now.

American Idol’s cameras were in Helena Friday night, taping coverage that will be seen by 20 million-plus viewers.

Due to press deadline, this column is being typed before Tuesday’s show, where Bice, Vonzell Solomon and Carrie Underwood battled in the final three.

Assuming some coverage of Bice’s return home aired Tuesday, I’m sure Helena has a lot to be happy about.

According to news reports, 5,000 people came to the Old Town Amphitheater Friday to wish him well before he returned to Hollywood. Bice, or the crowd, didn’t disappoint.

It appeared iffy at best Thursday as to whether Bice would sing Friday evening. By Friday afternoon, when it was announced Lynyrd Skynyrd would be on hand for Bice’s Helena visit, there was little doubt a concert would break out.

Bice and Skynyrd rocked the crowd with &uot;Sweet Home Alabama&uot; (surprise, surprise) and Free Bird. By 6 p.m., when Bice announced he would sign some autographs for the home folks, enthusiasm was at a fever pitch.

The crowd loved every minute of it.

A few danced. Many clapped. They all smiled.

Coincidentally, it may have been the most family-friendly concert in the history of rock music.

The crowd featured more Barney than Budweiser. Parents brought their children and didn’t worry. Dads hoisted children on their shoulders, so they could see over the mass of humanity.

Teenage boys and grandmas alike rocked with Bo. The lyrics weren’t raunchy. If there were any drunken rednecks, they were hard to find.

The short parade featuring Bo riding in a convertible through Old Town Helena was also cool. He waved. Children and adults holding homemade signs cheered. Everybody was happy.

It wasn’t exactly a Norman Rockwell moment, but it was close.

Helena Mayor Sonny Penhale recently commented that the city’s publicity would cost millions without American Idol. That’s something a small city can’t afford.

But for the second time in three years, Helena has hit the public relations jackpot. Flowers and Bice are solid young ambassadors for a growing city.

Patrick Johnston serves as staff writer for the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at mailto:patrick.johnston@shelbycountyreporter.com