When Gov. John Bel Edwards pulled aside a white cloth from a poster staged outside the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday morning, "American Idol" contestant Laine Hardy was overcome.

The blue board featured a picture of Hardy, dressed in an Elvis-like outfit from a recent performance on the TV singing competition. To the side the poster read, "May 14, 2019 Laine Hardy Day."

"I don’t know what to say, thank you,” Hardy said softly, pressing his right hand to his chest. 

The 18-year-old from southern Livingston Parish has risen to sudden fame as one of the top three finalists on the show, sending the country boy from the halls of French Settlement High School to the Governor's Mansion.

After his meeting at the mansion, he took part in a series of celebrations with thousands of people who came out to see him at their school, at a local marina and at a public concert and parade in the Town of Livingston. 

The concert drew an estimated 10,000 people to the Livingston Parish Fairgrounds where the "Idol" finalist played five songs, including his audition tune "Hurricane." 

Surprise guest Marc Broussard joined Hardy on stage for the song "Home."

Hardy, who pulled up to the concert in a purple bass boat towed by a pickup, told the crowd he was overwhelmed and excited to be home.

"Today's been the best day of my life, because of y'all," Hardy said. "I appreciate everything you do from the bottom of my heart."

The audience responded with calls of "We love you, Laine!"

It was a sentiment that had been repeated throughout the day, as locals expressed their support for the young man and wished him well as he prepares to face the nation Sunday night and sing a few more songs in the hope of being named the next American Idol.

"This Sunday night is the big one, so we wanted to make sure we could wish him well," Edwards told reporters.


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The whirlwind day seemed at first overwhelming for the young man. He arrived to meet the governor before dawn in Baton Rouge. About 40 teens from the governor's son's class at University High School lined up outside the mansion with signs and screams as he rolled through in a limo with a full police escort.

"We're all just proud that somebody from here really got up there," said rising senior Kodi Pye. "If he does or doesn't win, it's more just a matter of that’s somebody we can relate to. And that’s not something people from the south or Louisiana can really see on television."

The governor took Hardy, who was dressed in blue jeans and green rubber boots, on a tour of the mansion, allowing him to sit in his office chair and in the front seat of his Chevy truck, first lady Donna Edwards said. 

The shy teen appeared to relax more into his role when he arrived around noon at French Settlement High School, where he graduated in 2018. 

"I am so glad to be back home," he told the hundreds of students gathered in the gymnasium.

The school put on a lively show for him with cheerleaders, a dance group and even a string of Laine Hardy impersonators, like his former math teacher Daniel Martin, who was dressed in a sparkling jacket. Hardy laughed loudly as he pretended to be the show judge and told each impersonator they could "Go to Hollywood."

Toni Guitrau, mayor of French Settlement, gave Hardy a giant key to the village, and 4-year-old Dante Scofield gifted him a cardboard guitar.

"Y'all put the biggest smile on my face. My cheeks are cramping," Hardy told a group of youngsters who came up to dance for him.

In a message to his former classmates, Hardy encouraged them to follow their dreams.

"Don't ever give up. Keep on, because you never know what could happen," Hardy said.

Following the school visit, he rode a bay boat to Blood River Landing, a famed marina in Springfield, where he was greeted by more than a hundred friends, family members and local politicians.

Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard presented him a giant "Get out of jail free card," a gift that drew laughs from the crowd gathered in the pirate-themed bar at the marina.

"I hope I don't have to use this today!" Hardy joked.

In this weekend’s finale, Hardy will compete against Alejandro Aranda, of Pomona, California; and Madison VanDenburg, of Cohoes, New York.

Hardy had appeared in last year’s “American Idol” competition but was knocked out after the first round. He auditioned again after initially accompanying Ashton Gill for her audition.

Gill was knocked out of the competition in March, while Hardy moved on to ultimately reach the finale after last Sunday’s performances of “Can’t You See” by the Marshall Tucker Band, “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” by Elton John, and The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”

To the voting public and the show’s celebrity judges, there’s been something about the way Hardy has performed this spring.

“You have that look. You have that style. You have that sound. And you know what that’s called? That’s a winner in my book, OK?” Lionel Richie said.


Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.