It's hard to tell who was more ecstatic to be in Santa Cruz on Sunday afternoon—Chris Rene, or the 2,000 fans who came out to welcome him home. The local trash collector turned "X-Factor" star celebrated his homecoming with a sold-out show at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, which people of all ages began lining up for as early as 9 a.m. Sunday morning.
As Patti Bond of Santa Cruz put it: "It's kind of like a love fest."
That is, exactly, what it was. Locals, childhood friends, Rene's school teachers, the mayor, and even fans from as far away as Nevada and Chicago all came out to share their love for the local star, whose inspiring story, musical talent, and charisma has made national headlines.
"I've been waiting for this moment my whole life, Santa Cruz is the best place in the world," Rene said in a video that played before he came onstage.
Although the show began an hour late, not a soul seemed to mind, and when Rene finally joined his family on stage he was met with a mass eruption of love and pride. Rene was deeply moved, tearful at times, and graciously returned the love, telling the audience they were beautiful.
"We're here to spread a message of love, and positivity. I'm telling you, nine months ago I did not think I would be here," Rene said onstage.
Rene presented his substance abuse counselor Timothy Fry and Executive Director, Rod Libbey of Janus of Santa Cruz with a check for $1,500, and Libbey presented Rene with the news that they had renamed a room in Janus the "Chris Rene" room, to which Rene crumpled with heartfelt emotion and one of his signature 'woot!'s. There were goosebumps all around.
Mayor Don Lane proclaimed January 29 "Rene Day," presenting a plaque to Rene, and reading him a Mayor's Proclamation which congratulated Rene for "[battling] courageously among fierce competition to win one of three final spots out of 150,000 contestants."
Then Rene got down to business and treated the crowd to what they were all anticipating: that soulful singing that comes dripping in love, straight from Rene's heart.
Wearing a black T-shirt that read "Rise above hate" on the front, and "Hustle, Loyalty, Respect" on the back, Rene belted out "Everyday I'm growing stronger, I won't hold back any longer," and sang several other songs from the album he's currently working on.
"We're working on an amazing album right now. Six days a week, eight to twelve hours a day," said Rene.
Between songs, Rene left the stage and re-entered wearing a hooded leather jacket, then later a fedora and sunglasses, reminiscent of the wardrobe transformations he made each week during the "X-Factor."
Chris unleashed his guitar prowess playing and singing an insanely sweet version of "Where Do We Go From Here" which he sang with his talented sister, Gina Rene. Gina Rene also wowed the crowd with two of her own songs, which she sang accompanied by her "brother from another mother," guitarist Etienne David Franc. The whole audience sang along with her during "We Are the Change."
Other performers included local hip-hop artists Mac Jar and Monik Ape, and Phil Atkinson. Santa Cruz tattoo artist, Carlos Talley, and Elijah Pfotenhauer, painted a "Love Life" mural onstage during the show.
"This is what community is all about," said Timothy Fry, Rene's substance abuse councelor at Janus of Santa Cruz, on stage.
The positive "Love Life" message Rene sends was recieved and embraced on a local and national level.
"Chris Rene means a lot to me because I grew up down the street from him so I've lived by him my whole entire life, I also went to rehab with him.. it means the world to me to see him up there successing and living life sober, and seeing what it's doing for him," said Travis Tompkins of Santa Cruz.
Rene even brought fans from as far away as Nevada and Chicago to Santa Cruz.
"We followed Chris the entire way, and honestly my son lives in Michigan, he's 25 years old, he sent our family the video tape of his audition and he said 'you've got to see this kid, I love everything about him,' and we just went nuts over him and followed him ever since," said Lynda Mellows, who came from Nevada with her two nieces to show their support for Rene.