BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The last time Angie Miller was at Centerville School, she was a shy first-grader with a cute smile and a sweet voice.
Miller still has the smile and voice, but there was nothing quiet about her return to her former elementary school on Saturday.
While thousands gathered for her parade and concert held later in the day, Miller met with more than 300 excited first- through fifth-graders in the Centerville School gym.
Miller arrived, nearly an hour late, to the sounds of sirens as a police escort led a white stretch limousine into the parking lot to the front door of the school. When the tinted black window in the back rolled down to reveal Miller’s now-familiar smiling face, the students cheered wildly and moved toward the limo.
“You’re my neighbor!” shouted one boy as Miller began walking through the crowd. She gave him a high-five and said, “Dude, that’s awesome.”
As Miller high-fived one student after another, one of them yelled out, “I’m never going to wash my hand again!”
Clutching a handful of yellow daisies, Miller placed the flowers in the hair of girls as she walked by. Inside the school, she was greeted by Ella Colten and Kristen Kalivas, two Centerville School fifth-graders who had raised money to have two banners made showing their support for Miller.
Miller walked into the gym, where students stood on the steps to the stage under a large banner that read, “Good Luck Angie, You’re Our Idol.”
Miller signed another large banner that was laid out on a table, as well as a photograph of her first-grade class taken during the 2000-01 school year.
Miller attended Centerville for only one year before her family moved to Cape Cod. She returned to Beverly seven years later and attended Beverly High for all four years before graduating last year.
Miller spoke to the students, stressing the importance of having a best friend as her own best friend, Beverly High junior Lydia Hester, stood next to her. Miller called Hester “a blessing.”
“She helps me stay humble. She helps me stay grounded,” Miller said. “Never, ever have a friend who just brushes you off her shoulder. Have someone who’s there for you.”
While Miller’s appearance created genuine excitement, it was also carefully choreographed by “American Idol” staffers, who were filming the hometown visit to use on Wednesday’s show.
When Miller presented Hester with tickets to the “American Idol” finale, courtesy of the Ford Motor Co., a producer asked them to do it again and show more excitement.
Sixth-grader Sophia Lumino and fifth-grader Elizabeth Athanas didn’t need any prompting to show their enthusiasm. They presented Miller with a poster from their North Shore Sharks swim team.
“It was really great,’ Athanas said. “I got to hug her.”
Mike Gendron, the school custodian, posed for a picture with Miller, then took off a bracelet he had made and gave it to her.
Gendron, who was wearing a “Boston Strong” T-shirt, said he had made the bracelet the night before, calling it a “survival bracelet.”
“This is crazy that this is all happening,” Miller said as she looked around the gymnasium. “I used to be here.”