FRENCH SETTLEMENT — Laine Hardy returned to his old stomping grounds.

After making a trip to the Governor’s Mansion Tuesday morning, the American Idol finalist continued his highly-anticipated day-long homecoming tour with a stop at his alma mater, French Settlement High.

The gym was packed with elementary, middle school and high school students, including many who held up handmade signs in a show of support for their most famous alum. During the deafening pep rally, Hardy received a proclamation from the Village of French Settlement, a key to the city, and had a front row seat to a Laine Hardy impersonator contest.

It was quite the return home, Hardy said.

“It’s overwhelming — I’m shocked still,” the singer said. “Seeing all these people here is amazing. There are no words to describe it.”

Hardy visited with many of his former FSHS teachers. Before even walking out of his limo, he gave a big hug through the window to his high school bus driver, Malinda Thornton.

“This lady used to drive me to school everyday,” he said.

Hardy entered the gym around 12:30 p.m., with an American Idol camera crew trailing his every move. Hardy shook hands with students on both sides of the gym before walking to center court, where FSHS Principal Lee Hawkins announced Hardy as the first-ever French Settlement Star of Stars recipient.

“We are so proud of you, Laine,” Hawkins said before Hardy signed a framed photograph.

Town of French Settlement Mayor Toni Guitrau then presented a key to the city to Hardy.

“You will always be our bayou boy,” the mayor said.

Following the presentations, cheerleaders led all students in a lively chant: “L-A-I-N-E. Go Laine!” After that, Hardy served as the judge for an impersonator contest, during which students and one teacher came out dressed in the elaborate suits Hardy rocked during his stint on Idol.

“You might just win American Idol,” Hardy told teacher Daniel Martin.

After all the hoopla died down, Hardy spent a few minutes visiting with teachers and students, even signing a small guitar for a young fan wearing a cowboy hat.

“Y’all put the biggest smile on my face today,” Hardy said. “My cheeks are hurting.”

The Laine Hardy Day experience will end with a parade and concert in the Town of Livingston later Tuesday evening.

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