After finishing among the final 10 female contestants on “American Idol” in 2007, St. Charles native Leslie Hunt still gets recognized from her time on the show.
“I don’t know how it’s possible, but I do,” said Hunt, a 2000 graduate of St. Charles High School. “Someone will just come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I vote for you.’ I think a St. Charles person being on that show is pretty memorable for the people that live around here.”
Since 2008, Hunt has been fronting Chicago progressive rock band District 97. The band will perform in her hometown when it takes the stage at 9 pm Saturday at Pollyanna Brewing Company, 106 S. Riverside Ave., St. Charles.
Doors open at 8:30 pm and there is a $5 coverage charge. The show will also serve as a way for Hunt to celebrate a milestone in her life – she will turn 40 on March 23.
Hunt, who also is a mother (she has a 12-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son), moved back to St. Charles in 2015.
The following is an edited version of Hunt’s conversion with Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf:
Eric Schelkopf: Great talking to you again. As far as being on “American Idol,” do you think it jump started your career?
Leslie Hunt: I know it did in that I got hungrier than I was before because of that show. I started writing songs that were less about my own therapy and more about just rocking out with a band on stage. I hadn’t really written those songs yet.
For that reason, it definitely jump started my approach to my career.
Schelkopf: What’s it like living back in St. Charles?
Hunt: It’s good stuff. I live right by my grandmother, who is 98, and I get to see her all the time.
I love it here. There’s a lot of culture and there’s so much beauty. Hickory Knolls Discovery Center is behind my house. It’s so beautiful in there.
Schelkopf: It seems like you guys are trying to put your own spin on prog rock.
Hunt: I enjoy our band so much, and it’s kind of tough that we’re not technically anything. We’re not technically prog and we’re not metal enough for the metal people.
We’re not prog enough for the prog people sometimes. We’ve got some fusion elements, but then we’re also like kind of pop and a little bit soulful sometimes.
I feel like we’re really pushing the boundaries and it’s really fun. I think a set that with us isn’t too much of any one thing. I like that we never keep you in one place for too long. We have a lot of natural dynamics.
Schelkopf: I see District 97 will perform in May as part of Cruise To The Edge alongside such acts as Marillion, The Zappa Band, Alan Parsons and Adrian Belew. What are the band’s goals?
Hunt: I think we’d like to just see the band play for larger crowds and do better tours. And maybe one day, we will get a really awesome opening slot for someone that can widen our audience.
We’ve definitely seen growth. We’ve definitely widened our audience. We have an international audience.
What’s tough about it is, not only the pandemic, but also the things that we have to do to make ends meet around town sometimes anchor us here more than we’d like. With my job, for instance, as an event band leader (for the wedding band Entourage), I have to be in town on the weekends. So when District 97 tours, it has to be during a slow period in time for that band.
It’s a wonderful job, but it definitely kind of puts limits on what I am able to do with my original music, both as a solo artist and with District 97. We just have a lot of other irons in the fire.
It’s kind of tough to take a risk and focus on something that isn’t necessarily paying all of our bills yet. Our goal is just to keep growing.
My hope is that as my kids get older and my commitments with my event band change, I can focus more on District 97 and cross over to wider audiences. I feel like there’s a whole group of people that have no idea who we are because we’ve been so insulated in the prog niche market.
It’s a tough business and not for the faint of heart.
Schelkopf: Speaking of your solo career, have you been writing any new songs?
Hunt: I took a big break as far as releasing anything and I released two EPs last year called “Ascend” and “Descend,” sort of like companion EPs, with seven songs on each one. And I have more music that I’m looking to record this year.
Schelkopf: What can people expect at District 97′s show at Pollyanna?
Hunt: We have a whole album’s worth of new music in our brains that we’re playing live and trying to hone. I can’t even tell you how much I love this new music.
It’s really beautiful stuff. We’re known for our high energy, but some of this is just some of the most beautiful haunting music I’ve heard us do before.
I feel like it complements the set really nicely.