Laine Hardy talks his 'American Idol' win, Elvis influence and 'Vampire Diaries' obsession

Patrick Ryan

NEW YORK — America wants to "party with the Hardy."

On Sunday night, teen heartthrob Laine Hardy was crowned this season's "American Idol" on ABC, besting singer/guitarist Alejandro Aranda for the title. It marked the end of a long road on the singing competition for the Livingston, Louisiana, native, who previously competed on the show last year but was eliminated from the Top 50. 

He hadn't intended to give "Idol" another try this year, but was persuaded to sing for the judges again when he accompanied his friend, Ashton Gill, on guitar at her audition. While Gill didn't make it to Hollywood, Hardy took his golden ticket all the way to victory, winning over fans young and old with his throwback song choices and Elvis Presley-like swagger. 

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Rest assured, there are no hard feelings between the two pals: "She came to the finale and I talked to her before I left (Los Angeles)," says Hardy, who's feeling loopy but elated after a red-eye flight to New York early Monday morning. "She's super proud of me and I'm really glad she made me go play for her, because I wouldn't be here now." 

Hours after his TV triumph, Hardy, 18, chatted with USA TODAY about becoming the next "Idol."

Southern rock crooner Laine Hardy, 18, won this season of ABC's "American Idol" Sunday.

Question: What was going through your head when Ryan Seacrest said you were the winner? 

Laine Hardy: When Ryan told us the results, they totally went in one ear and out the other because for some reason, I didn't want to believe it. It's so overwhelming; it's just the craziest feeling you could ever feel in your life.  

Q: You and Alejandro were considered front-runners all season. What was it like going on this journey with him? 

Hardy: When it got down to about Top 14, me and Alejandro started getting coffee in the mornings together because we were all we had. Me and him just got close because we had the same mindset. He's really smart with the music business and inspired me, and gave me a lot of good advice on stuff. We became good friends because when I had a bad day, he'd help me and when he'd have a bad day, I'd help him. 

Q: After getting eliminated last year, did you have any second thoughts about going through the whole "Idol" process again? 

Hardy: I hesitated to take the golden ticket (to Hollywood), and then I figured I'd give it another try and see how far I could get. Throughout the season I had second thoughts about it because it's been really tough, but I just kept doing what I was doing; stressing out every day and pulling through it. 

Q: Is there one performance you're most proud of this season? 

Hardy: Well, what started something new for me was the showcase round in Hawaii when I first wore a suit (singing The Beatles' "Come Together"). It all just went from there and escalated, and I wasn't scared to do different things with my stage presence. I still get butterflies in my stomach before I go on stage, but once I start singing, it all just goes so fast, and the nerves go away. 

Q: A lot of people have compared your stage persona to Elvis. Is he a big influence of yours? 

Hardy: I found out about him when I was 7 years old and looked up to him, and that's what started me playing music. I took guitar lessons for a while, and then just started singing three, four years ago. I idolize him very much. 

Q: How do you plan to celebrate your "Idol" win once you go home to Louisiana? 

Hardy: What I'm most looking forward to doing is just getting lost on the river. First I'm going to see my family, and then get right back to music. But I just need some silence, you know? It's been crazy hectic. It was like 6½ weeks, and I've never been away from home that long. I miss my truck and having fun times with my friends, and I miss my dogs. 

Laine Hardy won over judges and fans singing covers of Hank Williams, Sam Cooke and The Marshall Tucker Band this season.

Q: What kind of dogs are they? 

Hardy: They're mountain curs. But I can't even remember their names – they were only a few months old when I left (for "Idol"). One is something like Neo, and my brother named the other off a "Game of Thrones" character (Sandor Clegane, aka "The Hound"). But I just call him "Clay" for short. 

Q: Outside of music, what have you enjoyed recently? 

Hardy: There's a lot of TV shows. I watch "The Vampire Diaries." Is that a bad thing? The first two episodes, I was like, "I don't know about this," but then I got hooked. My friends were like, "Man, that's girly," and then I told one of them to start watching it and now he can't stop asking me what's about to happen. It's really cool. It's not like a diary – I can't explain it.