Laine Hardy Returns To ‘American Idol’ — But Is It Fair?

Jill O'Rourke
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Sunday night’s new American Idol episode started with an interesting audition. Ashton Gill, a 20-year-old from Louisiana, showed up with her friend Laine Hardy. The 18-year-old singer was a contestant on the show last season, but he was eliminated during the Final Judgment round.

Before Ashton’s audition, she and Laine talked about how they’ve known each other since they were kids, and Laine said he was there to accompany Ashton on guitar. He added that he wasn’t there to audition for the show again.

You can probably predict what happened next. After the judges gave Ashton a golden ticket to Hollywood, they asked Laine to sing. They then immediately offered him his own ticket, which he accepted after a well-placed commercial break.

Many fans online were overjoyed to see Laine get another shot on the show. However, if you ask me, this decision (and the way it was handled) wasn’t fair for a number of reasons.

It Wasn’t Fair To Ashton Gill

From the moment Laine walked through the door, he overshadowed Ashton’s audition. The judges were fawning over him, commenting on his merchandise (yes, he has it) and “new teeth.” Before Ashton even began singing, Luke Bryan was asking if Laine was going to audition.

Then, as soon as they gave Ashton her golden ticket, they asked Laine to sing. I got the sense that they were already planning to give him a ticket, and Ashton’s audition was something they had to get out of the way first. Notice that Katy Perry already had the ticket in her hand before Laine started.

The judges made it all about about Laine, while Ashton stood to the side awkwardly. While we don’t know exactly what was going through her head, a few YouTube commenters speculated that she felt uncomfortable with the situation.

Of course, you might say this was the risk she took by taking a past contestant to her audition. It could have even been a tactic on her part. Having a friend who was on the show (or a mom who auditioned years ago, or having auditioned before yourself) adds to the story, and makes for better TV.

But at the end of the day, each contestant deserves their own moment in the spotlight, especially when they make it through to the next round. Ashton didn’t really get that.

It Wasn’t Fair To The Other Contestants

There are several audition stages singers have to go through before they get their shot in front of the judges. But Laine was able to skip all of that and hitch a ride into the judging room with his friend.

Laine is also in a much better position than most of the unknowns auditioning for American Idol. Although he didn’t make it far in the competition, he has over 100,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook, and has recorded music since leaving the show.

Of course, it’s very possible that the show had this all planned from the start, and bringing Laine in during Ashton’s audition was just to add suspense. But if they really wanted to bring back wildcards from last season, they could have had viewers vote or just chosen him without turning it into a stunt.

It Wasn’t Fair To The Viewers

Like I said, it seems like the show might have set this up to get Laine back in the competition. In that case, viewers aren’t getting an authentic experience. That counts for Laine’s “audition,” as well as Ashton’s.

Ashton has a nice voice, but she’s certainly not the best we’ve seen so far this season, and the judges had a few criticisms. Katy said she sounded nervous, and Luke admitted that she was “pitchy.” When Ashton said she hoped to improve during the season, the judges even said they wouldn’t really be able to coach her.

You’d think this might make for a harder-won golden ticket, perhaps with a “no” from one of the judges or a little more deliberation. But they all voted yes almost immediately.

Of course, if they really were planning to give Laine a golden ticket from the beginning, it would have looked bad for them to reject his friend. We don’t know what would have happened had Laine not been there. Ashton may have gotten through as a formality.

It might be too much to ask that this show be 100 percent authentic, but this instance felt especially over-the-top.

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