Competing for the third time, Michael Groover was chosen with other stocky, white-bearded men Thursday night at Sloppy Joe's Bar, a frequent Hemingway hangout.
Although she was present last year, Deen was not seen at the first of two preliminary rounds of the competition. Groover offered an apology during his speech to the judges, saying she didn't make it, "but wanted to be here to support me." The audience responded with thunderous applause.
Deen has been embroiled in controversy after public disclosure of a deposition in which she admitted under oath to having used the N-word. The Food Network didn't renew Deen's contract and pulled her shows off the air.