Laine Hardy had to step away from the conversation for a minute.
This was all happening so fast, he thought. After all, he had only started singing the year before, and now his mother was asking him — no, begging him — to audition for American Idol. The 17-year-old never imagined getting such a request.
Likewise, his mother Cindy Hardy never imagined making such a request. She had only recently learned of her shy son’s hidden singing voice — the one he practiced “at the top of his lungs” alone in the woods — but the mother of three believed wholeheartedly that her youngest child’s raspy voice was “something special.”
One day after her son came home from school, Cindy asked him to get out of his comfort zone and try out for the upcoming American Idol audition in New Orleans.
At first, she got the reaction she assumed was coming — a swift “no” — but that didn’t deter her. Instead, she went at it from a different angle.
“I told him, ‘Son, if you do this one thing for me, I promise I won’t ask you to do anything else,’” Cindy recalled.
Laine now had a decision to make.
“At first, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet,’” Laine said. “Then I went inside, thought about it, came back outside and said, ‘You know what, I’m gonna do it and see what I can do.’”
As the saying goes, momma knows best.
That conversation between mother and son was the unofficial start of Livingston Parish native Laine Hardy’s American Idol journey, which kicks off during the show’s return and two-day premiere March 11-12 on the ABC Network (WBRZ).
Hardy, a guitar-playing, blues-singing senior who attends French Settlement High School, will appear on Monday’s show, which starts locally at 7 p.m. The clip will be of his Idol audition in New Orleans last fall, which netted him a golden ticket to the Hollywood round.
It’s been a whirlwind for Hardy since he discovered his singing talents less than two years ago: He’s gone from singing alone in the woods to singing in YouTube videos to singing with a family band to singing in front of music icons Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.
It may have taken the quiet teenager some time to find his voice, but he’s finally gotten used to the idea of showcasing it to others — not just himself.
‘My son, sing?’
No one knew Laine Hardy had a voice people would want to hear, not even him.
After all, his introduction to the world of music didn’t begin in front of a microphone but behind a guitar, with a pick in his hand.
The guitar was Hardy’s first musical love, ever since his mother bought him a first-act guitar from Walmart when he was 7. He played around on that until he was old enough to get lessons from Jody’s Music in Walker, and now he can play a variety of instruments, including the guitar, drums, piano and banjo.
But Hardy’s voice is what has him set to appear on millions of televisions across the country as American Idol makes it return following a one-year hiatus and network change.
The first person to discover Hardy’s smooth-sounding voice was his gifted and talented music teacher Tim Richardson, who asked his student to put down his guitar and fill a void in the choir left by an absent student one day.
Hardy had only sung “a little chorus,” but it was enough to impress his teacher, who’d later pull Cindy Hardy aside and ask, “You do know your son can sing, right?”
But the idea of Laine — quiet, shy Laine — singing in front of others didn’t sound real.
“Laine is so shy; he’s not a man of many words,” Cindy Hardy said. “So I was more shocked he would even sing in front of the teacher.
“I thought, ‘My son, sing?’ It just sounded too unbelievable.”
Cindy then asked her son if he would sing for her, a request he didn’t oblige for “about a week or two.” But when Laine finally did sing, his mother couldn’t deny what Richardson had told her.
“I was like ‘oh my god son, you can sing,’” she said.
‘From 300 views to 20,000’
Laine Hardy has always been a reserved kid, so getting him to talk — much less sing — in front of people has been a work in progress.
Hardy mostly kept his answers brief during a recent phone interview with The News, though the southern boy ended each response with a polite “yes, sir.” He’s still getting used to the idea of being the center of attention.
“When I first started singing, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know if I liked my voice or not, and I didn’t know whether other people would like it,” he said. “So I wouldn’t even sing around my parents — I just sang to myself.”
That changed after he sang for Richardson one day in class, and now Hardy’s star has exploded to heights he never imagined reaching.
A Facebook page dedicated to his American Idol journey has already amassed more than 4,300 followers as of Thursday, March 8. The page has five videos that have garnered nearly 100,000 views and more than 1,800 shares, quickly turning the high school student into a local celebrity before his first appearance on the nationally televised singing competition.
“It’s very weird for me… to [have a video] go from 300 views to 20,000,” he said.
Laine’s celebrity grew even more after country superstar Luke Bryan's recent appearance on Good Morning America to promote the upcoming American Idol season.
During the interview, the show aired a clip of Hardy’s interaction with the three Idol judges, but particularly with Bryan, who peppered Hardy with questions such as “do you hunt gator” to gauge his “country cred.”
An avid outdoorsman himself, Bryan appeared to take an immediate liking to Hardy.
“Please be able to sing,” Bryan said before the clip ended.
‘He’s very, very, very quiet’
After hearing her son sing, Cindy Hardy knew there was a star just waiting to be unleashed, but getting him to show it was the challenge.
“He’s very, very, very quiet,” she said.
That has slowly changed in the year and a half since Laine, his older brother Kyle Hardy and cousins Trent Thibodaux and Casey Hardy formed a family band called The Band Hardy, which has played in venues across Livingston Parish. Laine started as the band’s lead guitarist before adding his voice to the mix when his hidden talent was discovered.
But of all the times Laine has sang publicly, no performance was as daunting as the one last fall, when he and hundreds of other American Idol hopefuls headed to New Orleans to showcase their skills in front of new Idol judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.
It wasn’t something Laine ever thought he’d do.
“It was a little hard for me to make myself do that, but I felt like I needed to do that and have more confidence in myself,” he said.
“In my mind, it was a blur because it was so unreal,” he later said. “You can’t imagine this ever happening in your life. I was just starstruck. It was crazy for me.”
Despite her son’s uncertainty, Cindy Hardy had no doubt Laine would walk out of the audition holding a golden ticket to Hollywood.
Now, she’s ready for the world to see why.
“This is something that he needs to do, and I told him that,” Cindy Hardy said. “He needed to prove to himself that he could do this. I knew he could, but he needed to know for himself. And what great way to do this and show everybody what you’ve got. I know what he has, but I want everyone else to see what he has.”
Those wanting to catch the beginning of Laine Hardy’s American Idol journey can tune in to the second half of the show’s two-day Season 16 premiere on the ABC Network at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 12.