SPRINGFIELD -- When Laine Hardy arrived at the loading dock, he could only smile and wave.
It was another surprise in a day full of them.
A crowd of 100 or so family members and close friends gathered at Blood River Landing in Springfield for a surprise party in honor of the 18-year-old American Idol finalist, who will go for the crown in the May 19 finale.
The visit was part of Hardy's superstar homecoming tour in Louisiana on Tuesday, May 14, a day that included a trip to the Governor's Mansion, a spirited pep rally at French Settlement High, and a parade and concert at the Livingston Parish Fairgrounds.
They stood on the dock holding their “Laine Hardy” signs and wearing “Hardy Party” T-shirts. When the boat carrying Hardy and his older brother Kyle turned the corner, the fans — who had waited under the blistering sun for close to an hour — burst into a chant.
“Laine, Laine, Laine!” they cried.
Hardy stood on the boat’s edge and stretched his arms to soak in the moment, pounding a fist to his chest multiple times. At one point, he smiled upon seeing the banner bearing his name, as well as the fence surrounding Blood River Landing that was filled with handmade posters.
“We love the Bayou Boy,” one fan screamed.
After Hardy arrived, the party moved under the pavilion, where Livingston Parish Layton Ricks and Sheriff Jason Ard presented the singer with a “Certificate of Recognition.” Councilman Jeff Ard also declared Hardy as this year’s winner of the Johnny F. Bell “Artistic Achievement Award.”
But before leaving, the sheriff had one more gift for Hardy — a “get out of jail free” card that he said was “only for you, Laine.”
“Don’t give that to your brother,” Sheriff Ard joked.
“I hope I don’t have to use this thing,” Hardy said.
Following the award presentations, people moved from the pavilion and gathered under a nearby tent, where sat another surprise for Hardy — crawfish.
“This is what I’ve been missing,” he said.