American Idol alum Laine Hardy stepped away from season 17 with not just the champion title but with a loyal fan base. Ever since reaching success on the fan-favorite singing competition show – the “Memorize You” singer has made waves within the country music scene.
When Hardy won over TV-goers hearts in 2019, he was only 18-years-old. Following his season, several young musicians going through the rigorous American Idol process looked to Hardy as a role model. In fact, country music newcomer and season 19 finalist Caleb Kennedy found comfort in Hardy’s music during his time on the show.
The 16-year-old musician admitted that listening to Hardy’s music helped him feel less homesick. “This song (“Ground I Grew Up On”) reminded me of home when I was in California,” the budding artist told GoUpstate. “That song helped me so much. I would just listen to it over and over.”
He shared that the pressure got the best of him, and the experience was nothing like he thought it would be. “You think it’s all going to be fun, and a lot of it is, but it will slap you in the face really quickly,” says Kennedy to Spartanburg Herald Journal. After the word getting out that Kennedy found hope and guidance within Hardy’s lyrics, the rising star spoke out.
“It feels really heartwarming to know that I can influence a life,” says Hardy in an exclusive Music Mayhem interview. “Having this platform, it’s crazy to be able to do that kind of stuff. When I seen that article that Caleb was in about my song “Ground I Grew Up On” and his experience on Idol. If I would’ve heard a song like that, I would’ve felt the same exact way. So, it just makes me feel really grateful that he listened to my song and felt that way about it. I’m glad I can help him out.”
Now, Kennedy had an unconventional departure from the show, as he was not voted off by the judges or fans. He was withdrawn after a controversial video surfaced online, which was reportedly misinterpreted as an act of racism, however, that was not at all his intention. In fact, according to his mother Anita Guy, Kennedy, who was only 12-years-old at the time of filming the video, was actually imitating a character from a movie called The Strangers: Prey at Night, that he and his friend watched the evening that the video was filmed.
“I hate this has happened and how Caleb is being portrayed by people online,” Guy explained to the Herald-Journal. “This video was taken after Caleb had watched the movie The Strangers: Prey at Night, and they were imitating those characters. It had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan, but I know that’s how it looks.”
Guy later clarified, “Caleb doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, He loves everyone and has friends of all races.”
Before the finale of the show, he took to social media to share the unfortunate news. “Hey y’all, this is gonna be a bit of a surprise, but I am no longer gonna be on American Idol,” he said. “There was a video that surfaced on the internet, and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way.”
The Spartanburg, South Carolina native continued to express his regretful feelings. “I wanna say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down. I’ll be taking a little time off social media to better myself, but saying that, I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me.”
Regardless of the negative backlash, Kennedy continued to earn the respect back in music city. The up-and-coming performer is now rubbing elbows with seasoned songwriters. He even had the opportunity to get into the studio with Brandon Kinney – the creative mind behind the moving hit “Ground I Grew Up On.”
After joining forces and bouncing ideas off of one another, the two carefully crafted “That’s the One.” Following the magic in the studio, Kennedy had a full-circle moment at a festival in Simpsonville, SC, when he performed alongside – Laine Hardy, Sam Hunt, Riley Green, and Jon Langston in September. To keep up the positive momentum, Kennedy released his single “Raised On Dirt.”