There are many paths to country stardom, and American Idol finalists Noah Thompson and HunterGirl will not be playing follow the leader. In fact, those who voted for the eventual winner may be a little disappointed by what he has to say about his immediate future.
During the above video, Taste of Country’s Billy Dukes and Adison Haager discuss how both will approach their young careers in country music from this day forward by exploring interviews and assessing the steps they took to get to the finals. Thompson was a lovable underdog who lacked self-confidence early on, but found his beat in time to win on May 22. HunterGirl was a model of consistency who never gave a bad performance. Which do you think has the best shot of hearing their song on country radio in 2022?
The 20-year-old from Kentucky admits his learning process has only just begun. Talking to the Herald Dispatch in Huntington, W.V., Thompson shared that he’s currently taking a break at home in Louisa. He’s catching up on chores (see the above photo) and trying to take it all in, but looks forward to taking the Disney Cruise he won as part of the winner’s package. Soon, he’ll begin the work of being a country artist — a specific kind of country artist.
“I’m not trying to be a pop-country artist,” he tells the newspaper. “I don’t want to be a pop-country artist. That’s not me. That’s why I didn’t wear certain clothes. I still wear my boots, my blue jeans and my flannel — that’s just me. I want to be a soulful, rock-country-type deal.”
“One Day Tonight” is his lead single after winning the show, and it doesn’t quite check those boxes. It may be best described as Dan + Shay meets Morgan Wallen, but the sample size is much too small to make judgements. It’s been at or near the top of digital singles charts since it was released, as has “Red Bird” by HunterGirl.
The Tennessee native (real name Hunter Wolkonowski) wrote her first post-show single, and in recent days, she has shared photos on Instagram of her getting to work with A-list Nashville songwriters Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz. Before the show, the MTSU grad had experience along Lower Broadway, the tourist district of Nashville. Fans may not have picked her as the winner, but it’s clear she’s further along than Thompson, whose fans love his potential as much as his talent.
“I want to put out new music,” she tells TV Insider. “I want to go out on tour. I want to sing songs. I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me through this entire year. I want to hear my song on the radio. I would love to play the Opry one day. Doing all these things I’ve dreamed of my entire life.”
Will her urgency pay off or lead to burn out? Does Thompson’s slow, methodical approach mean he’ll be forgotten, or that he’ll reemerge as a fully-formed artist capable of wowing the doubters? There’s precedent for both. After Season 16 of American Idol, Gabby Barrett hit the pavement and (eventually) landed a record deal and two No. 1 songs. Season 17 winner Laine Hardy took a year to find his voice and — at least until his arrest — has been recasting himself as something more than a reality television winner.
Different artists, different paths, and neither is guaranteed success or failure. The real winner might be country music, as four of the last six American Idol winners have been country singers, meaning the format’s biggest stars have gotten television exposure during the final rounds.