American Idol

Ashton Gill, left, sings Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos” while Laine Hardy plays the guitar during an episode of “American Idol” on Sunday, March 10. Gill and Hardy, both Livingston Parish natives and graduates of French Settlement High School, received golden tickets to the show’s Hollywood Round.

Laine Hardy walked to the door, turned to face “American Idol” judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, and asked the one question burning on the minds of everyone watching back at home.

“Am I really going?” he asked.

The answer — a unanimous yes.

In an early-season twist on “American Idol,” 2018 contestant Hardy received a golden ticket to the show’s Hollywood Round, marking the second straight season the French Settlement High School graduate has advanced past the televised audition portion of the national singing competition.

But this year, Hardy won’t be the only Livingston Parish native trying to impress the trio of Idol judges — or the only one who attended French Settlement High. Local singer Ashton Gill, a 20-year-old Southeastern nursing student and another FSHS graduate, also took home a golden ticket in what ended up being a dual-audition.

“We believe in you both,” Perry told Gill and Hardy before playfully adding, “Now go fight over it.”

Hardy started the audition on the guitar, providing backup music for his friend Gill as she sang Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos.” Each of the judges lauded Gill for her “pretty” voice, as Bryan called it, but they also gave her some helpful pointers following her performance.

“I think your nerves are getting the best of you, but I think you really got something,” Perry said.

“You are getting a little pitchy, but your voice is pretty,” Bryan emphatically added before all three judges voted “yes” for Gill to receive a golden ticket.

Though Hardy said he wasn’t there to sing, the judges eventually coaxed the 18-year-old country/blues singer into an impromptu audition, which wound up being a soulful acoustic rendition of the 1968 hit “The Weight.”

It didn’t take long for the judges to see a difference in Hardy, whose shyness played a part in his early exit from last season. With new teeth, new merchandise, and a new girlfriend, it was apparent a year’s worth of performing and singing had given Hardy a new level of confidence.

And judging by Perry’s dropped jaw, the judges noticed it from the first note.

“Where’d you get this confidence?” she yelled before all three judges sang the song’s chorus with Hardy.

Following his audition, Perry, Bryan and Richie implored Hardy to take another run at the American Idol crown.

“You found everything we said — it’s sitting right here,” Richie said as he waved the new-look golden ticket in front of Hardy. “You can go to Hollywood and have a great time, but more importantly this time, you have a shot.”

“You could win this one, you really could,” Perry added.

Hardy eventually accepted, and now French Settlement High will have not one, but two former students competing in the country’s most recognizable talent contest.

The next appearance for Gill and Hardy will come in the show’s Hollywood Round, in which the contestants perform individually or in groups in a series of rounds before the number of contestants is narrowed down to the Top 24.

Last year, Hardy was eliminated in the “Final Judgment” episode, one episode before the live performances that are determined by fan vote.

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