Face it. Laine Hardy, the newly crowned winner of the 17th season of “American Idol,” was and is the full package. Young, handsome and talented. Yes, runner-up Alejandro Aranda, 24, is a much more accomplished and original artist and third-place finisher Madison VanDenburg, 17, has a set of pitch-perfect magical pipes (although I do wish the wardrobe handlers had dressed her less like a Vegas opening act and more like a teen).
But Louisiana boy Laine, 18, had one advantage that only Florida native Alyssa Ragu, 17, shared this season. They both tried out the previous year and were cut in the early rounds. That made them hungry and both used the time to improve before trying out again. However, Alyssa — a fave of judge Katy Perry who made it to the Top 8 — focused on polishing her performing skills as she took dance and singing lessons.
He has now joined just two other returning contestants who managed to stage a comeback and win. Season 12 champ Candice Glover auditioned in the ninth and 11th seasons and never made it to the live shows. And Season 13 victor Caleb Johnson tried out on 10th and 11th seasons of “Idol,” and failed to get to the top 25.
Laine, however, didn’t even think he was going to try out again. But when he showed up with his guitar during the audition rounds in Idaho to accompany Ashton Gill — the sister of his friend, Micah — judges Katy, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan urged him to try out as well. He played guitar and sang “The Weight” with a pleasant raspy edge to his voice and soon a ticket to Hollywood was in his hand.
But Laine, who had been building his chops while performing in local clubs and music festivals in the meantime, decided to upgrade his image. When he stepped onto the stage during the Top 20 round in Hawaii, the boyish bangs were gone. The country singer had a modified pompadour and wore a dapper suit and a tie. He even had coined a slogan for himself, asking the crowd if they wanted to “party with a Hardy.” Laine went outside his country comfort zone as he delivered a rocking “Come Together” and a soulful “Bring It on Home to Me,” which he reprised on the finale. Once the kid from the small village of French Settlement plucks all that finale confetti out of his hair, Laine seems destined to establish a higher presence on the record charts than what his fellow winners Candice and Caleb achieved.