Laine Hardy Day

American Idol finalist Laine Hardy performs "Hurricane" at the Livingston Parish Fairgrounds on Tuesday, May 14.

FRENCH SETTLEMENT -- What if Tim Richardson had never asked Laine Hardy to sing for him in a quiet classroom at French Settlement High?

Would Hardy have ever built up the confidence to audition for American Idol?

Would he have ever been eliminated during his first run on the show, only to come back stronger than ever the next year?

Would he have ever amazed Idol judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan — and millions more watching at home — with his gravelly voice and flashy suits?

Would he have ever sparked the popular “Party with a Hardy” hashtag?

Would he be on the verge of winning the American Idol crown this Sunday?

Who knows, Richardson says.

The only thing that’s certain — “that boy can sing.”

“He never knew how good he was,” Richardson said.

Tim Richardson and Laine Hardy

Tim Richardson, left, poses with American Idol finalist Laine Hardy.

Richardson has been a music teacher for 20 years and has spent the last 12 teaching gifted and talented students in Livingston Parish.

About four years ago, he encountered a student named Laine Hardy, who as a timid freshman came to Richardson’s program ready to play the guitar — and only that.

That would change a year later.

Near the end of Hardy’s sophomore year at French Settlement High, Richardson asked the teenager if he’d be willing to sing “a little something” for him. It was just the two of them in a quiet classroom, but Hardy still needed some prodding.

“Laine immediately said, ‘I don’t sing,’” Richardson said. “But I was curious to see if he might. I said, ‘Laine, just sing something. Just a couple of bars.’ He was very shy, but I coaxed him into doing it.”

Once Hardy started singing, Richardson could hardly speak.

“I about fell out of my seat,” Richardson recalled. “Once he finished, I was like, ‘Son, you can really sing.’”

After the impromptu audition, Richardson called Hardy’s mother Cindy to tell her what her son had just done. Richardson wasn’t the only one shocked to learn that Hardy could sing.

“She was like, ‘Who, Laine?’” he recalled with a laugh. “She chuckled about what I said, but I was like, ‘You need to hear that boy sing.’ When she got home, she told Laine, ‘Mr. Tim said you can sing, let me hear it.’

“She said it took her two weeks to finally get him to sing for her.”

The rest is history for the Livingston Parish native. Less than two years after singing for Richardson, Hardy stood in a room singing in front of Richie, Perry and Bryan during his first American Idol audition in New Orleans.

Laine Hardy Day Tim Richardson

Tim Richardson rides in a float during a parade for American Idol finalist Laine Hardy on Tuesday, May 14.

After being eliminated in the Top 50 of that season, he returned to Idol to play the guitar for his friend Ashton Gill’s audition, only to audition himself and storm through Hollywood Week and a slew of live performances to the American Idol finale.

Richardson has watched it all. Sunday nights are now dedicated to American Idol, and Richardson said he regularly sends text messages to Laine and his mother saying “I’m rooting and praying for you.”

Laine usually responds with a polite, “Thank you, sir,” Richardson said.

During Hardy’s rockstar visit to French Settlement High this week, the last person gave a hug to before hopping in his stretch limo was Richardson. 

“He’s a very humble young man,” Richardson said. “He don’t know what to make of all the stuff and hoopla that’s going on. He’s just the same old Laine.”

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