Millions of television viewers across the country saw the homegrown talents of two performers with Sarpy County roots win a golden ticket to Hollywood on Thursday's episode of “American Idol.”
Quaid Edwards, a Papillion-La Vista South High School graduate, and Paula Hunt, a Bellevue West High School graduate, both advanced to the next round of the competition, Hollywood Week.
Both natives of Sarpy County were inspired by their mothers to compete in the contest.
Although Edwards has been around the music biz nearly his whole life, he was still nervous to perform for “American Idol” judges in Omaha this fall.
“That was probably one of the most intimidating things I've ever done in my entire life,” Edwards said.
Edwards, a 21-year-old senior at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, grew up watching his mother, Jolie Edwards, perform with major label country band Jolie and the Wanted.
His mother actually performed with judge Keith Urban earlier in his career.
“It's kinda funny how everything comes back around,” Edwards said on Thursday's show.
He performed Sam Cooke's “A Change is Gonna Come,” leaving judges somewhat convinced. But they ultimately awarded him a coveted “golden ticket” last year, when the auditions were filmed.
“I'm as green as they come,” he said to the judges.
“I happen to like that shade of green,” judge Harry Connick Jr. quipped.
Edwards watched at home with his friends, but he said he was on the phone with his mom the whole time.
A vocalist in the U.S. Air Force Heartland of America Band, Hunt has been singing since before she could talk, she said.
“When Paula was about six or seven months old, she knew the ABC song,” said her mother, Yolonda Kynard. “She would get all excited when I would start singing it and she would try to sing along with me. This would just shock and amaze people.”
Hunt got involved with the Air Force Band after hearing about it her senior year in high school, and she's served as a member of the Heartland of America Band since August 2011.
The 20-year-old is currently a journeyman vocalist for the band's rock ensemble Raptor.
Hunt said she dreamed of performing on a grand stage someday. Now she will have that opportunity on national television.
Hunt was nervous before and during the “American Idol” audition, she said. She took the leap after encouragement from her mother and sister.
“I was nervous, and then I just went for it,” Hunt said. “Once I made it to Hollywood Week, I realized that this could be the gateway to me getting to live out those dreams I've had since I was a little girl. I am really excited.”
She performed Etta James' “All I Could Do Was Cry,” and she choked up telling the judges how her mother was an inspiration to her.
Kynard lost most of her voice in 2007 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“I get to finish what she started,” she said. “I'm here for her.”
Connick said members of the military should be proud to have someone like Hunt performing in an Air Force Band.
“You have such a talent, and it still hasn't begun to blossom,” judge Jennifer Lopez said.
Amid shots of downtown Omaha, farm fields, tractors and tumbleweed, last week's episode of the long-running music talent show featured dozens of contestants stepping in front of a backdrop that read “Greetings from Omaha” to show their stuff.
All in all, 21 people who auditioned at Omaha's CenturyLink Center got the nod from Urban, Lopez and Connick.
The episode featured several small-town Nebraska and Iowa aspirants, as well as contestants from eight other states.
Season 13 of “American Idol” broadcasts Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. on Fox, including locally on KPTM Fox 42.
To view videos of Edwards' and Hunt's auditions, view this story on the Bellevue Leader's website, bellevueleader.com.
World-Herald News Service and 55th Wing Public Affairs contributed to this report.