After finishing as a top 10 contestant on “American Idol” in 2007, St. Charles native Leslie Hunt has been gaining recognition since 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 voted for you.’ I think a person from St. Charles on this show is quite memorable to the people who live here.
Since 2008, Hunt has fronted Chicago progressive rock band District 97. The band will perform in their hometown when they take the stage at 9 p.m. Saturday at Pollyanna Brewing Company, 106 S. Riverside Ave., St. Charles.
Doors open at 8:30 p.m. and there is a $5 cover charge. The show will also serve as Hunt’s celebration of a major milestone in her life – she turns 40 on March 23.
Hunt, who is also 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: Glad to have spoken to you again. Regarding “American Idol”, do you think it launched your career?
Leslie Hunt: I know that is the case in that I have been hungrier than before because of this show. I started writing songs that were less about my own therapy and more about rocking out with a band on stage. I hadn’t really written those songs yet.
Because of this, it definitely launched my approach to my career.
Schelkopf: How is it to live in St. Charles?
hunt: It’s good stuff. I live right next to my grandmother, who is 98, and I see her all the time.
I really like it here. There is a lot of culture and there is so much beauty. The Hickory Knolls Discovery Center is behind my house. It’s so beautiful in there.
Schelkopf: It sounds like you’re trying to put your own spin on progressive rock.
hunt: I love our band so much, and it’s kind of hard that technically we’re nothing. We’re not technically prog and we’re not metal enough for metal people.
We’re not prog enough for prog people sometimes. We have elements of fusion, but we’re also kind of pop and a bit soulful at times.
I feel like we’re really pushing the limits and it’s really fun. I think a set that with us is not too much of a single thing. I love that we never keep you in one place too long. We have a lot of natural dynamics.
Schelkopf: I see District 97 performing in May as part of Cruise To The Edge alongside artists such as Marillion, The Zappa Band, Alan Parsons and Adrian Belew. What are the group’s goals?
hunt: I think we would just like to see the band playing to bigger audiences and touring better. And maybe one day we’ll have a really awesome opening slot for someone who can expand our audience.
We have certainly seen the growth. We have definitely expanded our audience. We have an international audience.
What’s hard is that not only the pandemic, but also the things we need to do to make ends meet in the city sometimes ground us here more than we’d like. With my job, for example, as the leader of an event group (for the Entourage wedding group), I have to be in town on the weekends. So when District 97 is running, it must be during a slow period for that band.
It’s wonderful work, but it definitely limits what I’m 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 hard to take a risk and just focus on something that doesn’t necessarily pay all of our bills right now. Our goal is simply to keep growing.
I hope that as my children grow and my commitments with my event group change, I can focus more on District 97 and move on to a wider audience. I feel like there’s a whole group of people who have no idea who we are because we’ve been so isolated 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 written any new songs?
hunt: I took a big break from releasing anything and released two EPs last year called ‘Ascend’ and ‘Descend’, kind of like companion EPs, with seven songs on each. And I have more music that I’m looking to record this year.
Schelkopf: What can people expect at the District 97 show at Pollyanna?
hunt: We have a whole album of new music in our brains that we play live and try to refine. I can’t even tell you how much I love this new music.
It’s really nice material. We’re known for our high energy, but it’s some of the most beautiful haunting music I’ve heard us make before.
I feel like it complements the whole thing very well.