When Lynche was saved from elimination by Idol judges after scoring the lowest vote total, the energetic crowd of fans that had gathered at two Burger King "support centers" in Queens that night breathed a sign of relief. When judge Simon Cowell said, “We're gonna see you next week," intense cheering could be heard up and down Astoria Boulevard and on Northern Boulevard in Bayside.
It all started in March, when a Burger King at 33-10 Astoria Boulevard (between 33rd and 34th streets) in Astoria became the unofficial headquarters of the “Big Mike” fan club, hosting viewing parties on American Idol Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Along with residents of the neighborhood, the restaurant owners, employees, and management all took an interest in this particular contestant - an Astoria local.
“We started following him when we found out he was on the show, became excited for the community, and took ownership of his story,” said Burger King owner Debbie Sena. “Signs were hung up all over the restaurant welcoming people to come in and watch American Idol with us.”
Sena even had a big-screen television installed for the newly formed fan club. Before long, the idea flourished into a community activity. “Whatever is important to Astoria, is important to us,” she said.
Sena and her brother, Jay Della Monica, own 15 Burger King Restaurants across Queens. “Big Mike” viewing parties have also spread to Bayside, to a Burger King on 222nd Street and Northern Boulevard. Fortunately, that location already had a big screen TV. The siblings believe in reaching out to the residents and giving back to their community.
On Idol nights, Astoria fans gather in droves to vote for and cheer on Lynche, while munching on Whoppers and fries. BK regulars from the neighborhood, Brandon Najera, a junior at Long Island City High School, and Eni, a sophomore at Queens Vocational, stopped in on a Tuesday evening after skateboarding down Astoria Boulevard, to hang out with their friends until ‘Idol’-time.
“I think Big Mike is an inspiration to everybody in Astoria,” said Najera.
“I love Big Mike, I hope he wins,” said his buddy Eni. “He’s representing all of us here.”
Dozens of Astoria BK “members“ recently appeared on Fox News. When a reporter asked her how many people usually come in to watch and cheer, Sena replied, "This is the crowd, it gets bigger every week. It's the regular crowd!" In the background, the motley group of fans held up hand-made signs and chanted, "Big Mike! Big Mike!"
BK manager Julia Mitchell, who lives in Astoria, has been working at the Astoria Boulevard location since 2006.
"The owners were having more fun than we were - they got us into it," she said. "He’s a soulful singer; he sings from the heart. We’re hoping Big Mike sticks around."
As of press time for this issue, Lynche was one of four remaining contestants. The pressure is on, but he remains confident that his ambitions will take him far.
"I've sat on the couch for years watching it [American Idol], wondering if I had what it takes,” he told Letoya West of About.com. “So here I am proving that I have what it takes."
Sena briefly spoke to Lynche over the phone, during which he expressed the gratitude he feels for his fans. Sena relayed this message to members of the unofficial “Big Mike” fan club.
“He is very appreciative of all of our support,” she said. “He doesn't take anything for granted. He is thankful for the parties we have been throwing and loves Astoria. He will keep in touch and stop by our Burger King when he gets back.”