The fan-favorite singing competition show, American Idol is officially in full swing!
On Sunday (Feb. 27), judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie kick started Season 20 alongside Ryan Seacrest in hopes to find America’s next prominent artist. The first round of auditions were held in Austin, Los Angeles, and Nashville.
As contestants bring their A-game to receive the legendary golden ticket to Hollywood, they are also competing for the new platinum ticket. For the first time in history, American Idol is only granting nine musicians with a handy tool that will allow them to bypass Hollywood Week.
While a slew of singers showcased their hidden talents, only one music hopeful caught Luke Bryan’s undivided attention. A Winchester, TN native named Hunter Wolkonowski (also known as Huntergirl) left Bryan in disbelief with her remarkable rendition of Rascal Flatts’ “Riot.”
The 23-year-old who works with veterans as a music therapist immediately received praise from the country music sensation and the two other judges for her captivating sound and extraordinary delivery – leaving her in the running for the platinum ticket.
During the show-stopping performance, Bryan penned “Top 10” on a piece of paper and took a lap around the set after Hunter completed the cover to show his excitement.
“Hunter, your voice cuts through, it is like a sharp knife. It’s just so nice to listen to, you can tell the story through and through,” Perry mentioned after the audition. “It’s authentic… You’re obviously a good-hearted person with what you do helping Veterans. You check so many different boxes. All you need is a shot.”
The “Play It Again” singer chimed in to compare her to one of Nashville’s hottest stars.
“I wrote Top 10 on my sheet… It’s like a new age Miranda Lambert deal going on,” Bryan noted. “It’s my fifth year doing this, and that is my favorite female country voice I’ve heard in five years,” he said before challenging her wide vocal range.
“I tell you what, I don’t even think you were in the right key for that song. I think you could go up a half-step. Do me a favor and slide your capo up a half chorus,” The reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year said while questioning her abilities.
After taking his advice – Hunter crushed the chorus.
“Someone check my temperature!” screamed Perry after Hunter elevated the tune. Richie declared that Hunter would have a “solid career in country” before the group awarded her an eye-catching golden ticket.
Following her successful audition, Bryan told Perry and Richie that he would like to see real country fans react to Huntergirl. Therefore, the judges jumped on a video call and asked the contestant to perform at Luke Bryan’s 32 Bridge on Lower Broadway.
“So we’d love to see you again, and we want to put you on stage in front of people in my bar…TONIGHT,” Bryan said virtually. Within the same day, the budding songstress took center stage at the lively venue and sang Miranda Lambert’s smash hit “Bluebird.”
The three judges surprised Hunter, as they joined her on stage with a special gift.
“Because it’s the 20th year of American Idol…for 20 years, you’re supposed to have platinum, right? Byran shared with the rowdy audience. “So inside the guitar case is another ticket that only one person in the city gets during audition times, the platinum ticket,” said Perry while slowly opening the case displaying the accolade.
The pop-princess continued to explain the ticket, “This not only means you get to go to Hollywood, but you get to relax for one day, rest your voice and size up the competition and figure out how to become the next American Idol.”
With the ticket in hand, Hunter expressed her gratitude and told the cameras that she would hold onto the memorable moment for the rest of her life.
“It was one of those moments that I’m probably going to remember for the rest of my life,” she gushed. “Getting to be there and having three of my idols tell me that I’m good enough, and that I’m not crazy, and that I could do music and for them to pick me…I know there’s only one in every city, and it just means a lot to me,” she concluded.
American Idol airs every Sunday at 8 PM ET on ABC.