Thousands auditioned for the 17th season of ABC's "American Idol." Only 175 advanced to Hollywood, where the judges trimmed the hopefuls down to 40 and then flew them to Hawaii, where 20 more were axed.

After this week's celebrity duets, now 14 "Idol" finalists remain, and one of them is Livingston's Laine Hardy.

If the name sounds familiar, the 18-year-old French Settlement High School graduate competed on last season's "Idol." He made it to the Hollywood rounds but was eliminated in the "final judgment."

This season, Hardy accompanied his best friend's sister, Ashton Gill, also of Livingston, to "Idol" auditions, playing guitar while Gill showed off her singing chops on Chris Stapleton's "Broken Halos." With a little coaxing from judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, who remembered him, Hardy also auditioned, belting out The Band's classic "The Weight."

Although both Gill, 20, and Hardy advanced to Hollywood, Gill was sent home that week. She continues to perform locally while studying nursing at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.

As for Hardy, he keeps amazing the judges on his improved vocals, confidence and style over last year. He'll be seen next on the first of the live shows, airing Sunday and Monday. That's when fans can start voting for their favorites, one of whom will become the next American Idol.

"After the show last year, I just started getting fans from everywhere, and it just made me feel more confidence about myself," Hardy said during Hollywood Week. "And, I was surprised that people would listen to my music and like it." 

"I wasn't planning on auditioning this year, but since returning to the 'Idol' stage, I want to go all the way," Hardy said in the show's April 1 episode.

And what do the judges have to say? Here are a few highlights:

From Katy Perry:

"Yeah, well, he's been eating his vegetables!" (following Hardy's performance of The Black Crowe's "She Talks to Angels" in Hollywood)

"I got chills. Am I allowed to have a crush on a contestant?" (when Hardy took the stage in Hawaii wearing a black suit for his solo of the Beatles' "Come Together")

"Jesus, take the wheel! … I'm scared of you. It's a good thing because you are literally commanding the stage." (following Hardy's rocking rendition of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me," his top 20 solo choice)

From Lionel Richie:

"Now, if you want to come back, let us know. Don't play around. You can go to Hollywood and have a good time. More important, this time you've got a shot. No kidding." (after Hardy's impromptu audition)

"We are in trouble now because Laine has discovered a new thing. You can take that look all the way to the bank, my friend." (demonstrating Hardy's Elvis-like hip shake during the Sam Cooke number)

From Luke Bryan:

"I'm really so happy where your voice has come from last year, but what I'm even more excited about is everything you're doing currently looks like you're trying to win this whole competition." (After Hardy sang "Bring It on Home to Me")

"Laine, you've shined, you've blown your voice out, you've battled, you've had a black suit on, now you've got on a shirt with white doves on it … Laine, great job. You're in the Top 20." (during the Hawaii show eliminations)

"Wow, ya'll. This is gonna get good." (at episode's end on March 31)

'American Idol'

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday

CHANNEL: WBRZ, Channel 2 in Baton Rouge and KATC, Channel 3 in Lafayette (both cable Channel 5)


Follow Judy Bergeron on Twitter, @judybergeronbr.