Musical sensation Laine Hardy has deep roots in South Louisiana
As you roll into the little town of Bayou Barbary in south Louisiana, you might see the blue metal sign on the shoulder of Highway 444 that lets you know it’s the home of Laine Hardy. Next to his name are white silhouettes of the state bird and the state tree, which is very fitting because the brown pelican and the bald cypress are among the many things that make the area so special to its young favorite son.
Hardy, just 20 years old, is having a brush with the big time after an unconventional American Idol experience that almost seems like a fairy tale. After his win in Los Angeles last year, he was set up with a record deal, tour dates, and a top-notch Nashville producer who paired him with some well-crafted songs that were practically tailor-made for him. But this down-to-earth entertainer can’t imagine moving away from these swamps, lakes, and bayous east of Baton Rouge. “I’ll always live here,” Hardy says. “It’s where I came from, and it’s made me who I am.”
For someone who considers himself an introvert who would rather listen than talk, Hardy has plenty to offer about why he loves the area so much. “The people here are really nice, and they will help you in any way they can. I love the weather, though a lot of people don’t. I love being on the water. I love the magnolia trees and the cypress trees. And the food is amazing, too.”
His Golden Ticket
Musically, Hardy is an old soul who tends to favor classic rock and blues tunes that are a lot older than he is. Elvis Presley is his favorite performer, and he took the King’s offstage manner to heart, too. “I like the way he carried himself and had respect for every single person that he met. I think respect is really important in life,” he says.
Hardy started playing guitar when he was just a kid but didn’t know he had a great singing voice until just a few years ago. He was too embarrassed to try and sing in front of anyone, so he took his brother’s advice and practiced in a patch of woods near their home. “I went out there on a four-wheeler and parked on a dirt road and sang to the birds and the deer and the trees,” he recalls. One day he returned home confident enough to belt out the Sam Cooke classic “Bring it on Home” to his mom, who was shocked at how good he was.
Before long, someone from American Idol caught him singing on YouTube and reached out with an invitation for him to audition. So, freshly out of high school, he shyly made his way out to L.A. in the spring of 2018. He did all right, and the A-list judges (Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan) seemed to like him, but he just wasn’t there yet in terms of skill or confidence and failed to make the Top 50.
That fall, he accompanied his best friend’s sister to an Idol audition for the next season, not as a singer, but as her guitarist. The celebrity judges recognized him from the previous season and insisted that he sing for them right there on the spot. He obliged with an unrehearsed version of “The Weight” by The Band. The celebrity judges sang along on the famous “Take a load off, Fannie” refrain and invited him aboard for another run.
He was a pro this time—a teen-aged showman with a soulful voice and a grown-up sense of restraint. He admits to being nervous on the way to his storybook victory, but he didn’t show it. He had dressed for success, using a trick he had learned in Sunday school. “When you wear a suit, it makes you feel confident,” he says. “That’s something I realized when I was a kid going to church.”
He gets more comfortable in flannel and denim in his recent videos for “Ground I Grew Up On” and “Tiny Town,” and his family members and friends pop up on video too. The songs are the result of his association with producer Michael Knox, who has also worked with the likes of Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Kelly Clarkson. He has released an EP called In the Bayou on Hollywood Records and two subsequent singles.
“I didn’t grow up listening to that much country music, but I know country music and the history behind it,” he says. “I came from the same kind of background as the people who are in country music.”
After a strong national tour last year, Hardy had big plans for this spring and summer. Most of his shows were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but more than two million viewers tapped into his virtual performances online. Then he and his girlfriend, Sydney Taylor (the reigning Miss Louisiana Teen USA), both came down with the coronavirus in June, but fortunately their illnesses were not serious. He was overwhelmed by a huge outpouring of concern and support—not just from those nice folks at home but from fans around the world.
One of Hardy’s favorite places in the world is just a short drive from the family’s 17-acre homestead. The brackish waters of Lake Maurepas are where he learned to spear catfish along a sandbar or drop a line for bass or bream or sac-o-let, which is what their Cajun friends call white perch. For deer and turkey hunting, he makes a short drive up to Woodville, Mississippi. “I love turkey hunting more than anything because they talk back to me,” Hardy says. “They’re just fun—they give you a rush of adrenalin when you’re hunting them.”
These outdoor activities are fulfilling to him and give him a sense of peace as well as an appreciation for the land he plans to always call home. He’s a local celebrity there, but he certainly doesn’t act like one. “I just want to keep pursuing music and stay who I am,” he says. “That’s what I’m happy doing. That’s what I love.”