Louisiana finally has its idol.
Livingston's "bayou boy" Laine Hardy walked away with the "American Idol" title during the three-hour live finale on ABC Sunday night. He's the first Louisiana singer to win "American Idol" in its 17 seasons.
Clutching his chest just before the announcement, the ecstatic 18-year-old Hardy grinned as streamers and confetti showered the stage.
"I can't believe it," Hardy told host Ryan Seacrest. "I am just so thankful."
FRENCH SETTLEMENT — As a child, Laine Hardy loved to run around barefoot.
At a watch party at a Livingston park, fan Margaret Arledge had tears in her eyes.
"Wow! That's wonderful!" she exclaimed. "We wanted him to win. We pushed him all the way. I'm so happy for him."
Hardy's Talented Music program teacher Tim Richardson was also elated.
"We're incredibly proud. He deserved it. He's such a talented young man and he's such a good young man."
Laine Hardy made history Sunday night, becoming the first Louisiana native to win 'American Idol' and the show's 17th winner overall.
The crowd screamed and cheered. A fire truck across the street from the park sounded its horn. It was a joyous night in Livingston.
Alejandro Aranda, a 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Pomona, California, was second. Seventeen-year-old Madison VanDenburg, a high school junior from Cohoes, New York, finished the night third.
After a rousing opener with judge Lionel Richie leading the top 10 finalists in his hit, "Dancin' on the Ceiling," Hardy was the first finalist up to sing, performing "Home" by fellow Louisiana artist Marc Broussard. The latter singer had surprised Hardy on stage at his homecoming concert in Livingston on Tuesday.
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With more product in his hair than usual, judge Katy Perry remarked, "Every week Laine, your hair seems to get higher and higher … like mine.
"If you apply yourself every day for the next five years, you're going to be the biggest star on the planet," she added.
"That was a nasty song," Richie commented. "You're on your way, my friend."
Meanwhile in Livingston, about 200 people, many parents and children dressed in Hardy T-shirts, gathered under a park pavilion to watch the show on a big screen.
They sat at picnic tables and on folding chairs, in a mood that resembled a fun family barbecue, and cheered as footage rolled from Hardy’s trip home last week, and then as Hardy sang his second solo number, "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)."
The video footage of his homecoming to Louisiana last week showed Hardy at the Governor's Mansion greeting his first, small crowd of the day. He was also seen taking the boat out on the Amite River with his brother, Kyle Hardy.
"I didn't know how much I missed this," Laine Hardy said.
Then came the parade through the town of Livingston and the four-song concert at the Livingston Parish Campgrounds.
Later, Hardy gathered around the dinner table at home with his extended family, where he broke down in tears as the weight of his instant fame had time to catch up with him.
"You always want your kids to do better than you, so I'm just happy for him," father Barry Hardy said.
Hardy's rendition of "Jambalaya," the 1952 classic by Grammy Hall of Famer Hank Williams, was praised as a great choice by judge Luke Bryan, who remarked that Hardy hasn't forgotten his roots.
"I want you to take me fishing," judge Katy Perry added. "You look like you have so much fun in Louisiana. I want to go with you."
At the park, JoAnne Hernandez described herself as “Laine’s No. 1 fan.”
Hernandez said she saw Hardy play at a local bar last year and told him, “I think you need to go back, because you’re the next American Idol.”
Hernandez said she watches the show every year, but this has been the most special, because Hardy is from her home parish.
Anna Bravata, 10, started watching the show just recently, but she’s already a Hardy fan. If she could meet him, Bravata said, she’d tell him: “He’s a good singer, and he’s awesome.”
The gathered fans crossed their fingers and covered their faces as they waited for host Ryan Seacrest to announce the top two finalists at the show's midpoint.
When the results were read, they hollered, clapped and cheered for their hometown boy.
Duets with the top 10 and "Idol" judges continued.
At 9:15 p.m., Hardy, with parents Barry and Cindy Hardy and other family and friends in the studio audience watching, sang a medley of “Night Shift” and “Dirt on My Boots” with country singer/songwriter/record producer Jon Pardi.
Earlier on Sunday, GoldDerby.com, an awards prediction and entertainment news website, reported their poll Hardy had narrowing the gap to seven points between him and leader Aranda, 48%-41%. At the same time, VanDenburg trailed at 11%.
Sunday night's finale topped off a whirlwind seven days for Hardy.
They came in strollers, all-terrain vehicles and wagons, and of course, cars and pickups.
After advancing to "Idol's" top three last week, Hardy flew home on Monday, appearing on the 4 p.m. newscast on local ABC affiliate, WBRZ, Channel 2. Tuesday began with his sunrise stop at the Governor's Mansion, where Gov. John Bel Edwards declared it "Laine Hardy Day" in Louisiana. Then it was off to Hardy's high school alma mater, French Settlement High, for a pep rally for the 2018 graduate. Next, a visit to one of his old stomping grounds, Blood River Landing, for a party with local officials, family and friends. A parade through the town of Livingston preceded a brief concert at the Livingston Parish Fairgrounds attended by 10,000 fans.
Hardy competed on the rebooted "Idol" last season, but was eliminated during the competition's first phase, Hollywood Week. This season was quite a different story for the 18-year-old shy country boy who loves fishing, hunting and his truck.
He honed his vocal chops, performance style and fashion sense. Comparisons to a young Elvis emerged. He tackled country, Disney and rock tunes with equal swagger.
The songs he performed at each level of the competition were:
- Top 40: “Come Together” by The Beatles
- Top 20 solo: “Bring It On Home” by Sonny Boy Williamson
- Top 20 duet: with Elle King on “The Weight” by The Band
- Top 14 song 1: “That’s Alright Mama by Elvis Presley
- Top 14 song 2: “Hurricane”
- Top 10 song: “Oo-De-Lally” from “Robin Hood”
- Top 8 song: “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen
- Top 6 song 1: “I Don’t Need No Doctor” by Ray Charles
- Top 6 song 2: “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry
- Top 5 song 1: “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” by Elton John
- Top 5 song 2: “Can’t You See” by the Marshall Tucker Band
- Top 5 song 3: “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
America and the "Idol" judges — Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry — loved Hardy, as he was a top vote-getter and garnered praise from the three pros each week. Perry's crushing on the teen made him blush, Hardy told The Advocate.
Past "American Idol" contestants from Louisiana have included Joshua Ledet, a native of Westlake, who finished third in 2012, and MacKenzie Bourg, of Lafayette, the fourth-place finisher in 2016.