Jenna Hunts, a Thibodaux singer and songwriter, earned a golden ticket on “American Idol,” advancing in the competition with an assuring three yeses.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this season’s first auditions were held over Zoom. After passing that round, Hunts was flown to California and then put in a room with Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Katy Perry, the show’s judges. “It looked like I was walking into heaven,” Hunts laughed. “It was so crazy.”
“I was super nervous walking in there because I’ve never performed in front of three icons like that, so it was a different type of nervousness that I’ve never felt before,” she continued. “I think the initial thought when I walked in was: ‘I am so terrified, but I am so excited.’”
To win over the judges’ hearts, Hunts sang and played by piano her rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.”
“I wanted to pay homage to New Orleans and south Louisiana, so that’s why I chose that one. And I put my own spin on it just ‘cause I wanted to kind of show them the songwriter side of me,” said the 22-year-old who first auditioned for the show when she was 15.
And the song choice worked, with the judges responding with excellent feedback.
Richie told Hunts he was worried initially when she announced her song because so many people have tried it before. “He said, ’But the fact that you made it your own was incredible, and I’ve never heard it sung like that as many times as I heard it,’” Hunts said. “And he said that I have a very unique voice that he hasn’t heard before and that he loved it.”
Perry and Bryan praised her audition too and gave her advice for future performances, she said.
Hunts, a New Orleans native, said she’s been doing music her whole life and started performing at seven years old.
“My dad was in a band when I was a kid, and he would go play around different festivals and fairs. One day he kind of tugged my arm and made me get on stage. I was like, ‘I’m not getting up there.’ And he said, ‘Once you do it, that’s the end of it. It’s just going to be what you want to do,” Hunts remembered. “And he was right.”
But at the age of 13, Hunts received some news that would affect her passion. An audiologist told her family that she had a permanent hearing loss in one of her ears.
“I think that basically what they said was that some of the hairs in my ear are broken off. So that’s what caused the hearing loss,” Hunts shared. “And I feel like it could have been from maybe being around live music my whole life.”
Despite the challenges her disability brings and the fear of becoming deaf in her other ear, Hunts still follows her calling, driven by her love of the art and people in her corner.
“I’ve been told ‘no’ a lot in my life, and I’m very, very fortunate and blessed for the people that I have surrounding me and the people who are so supportive. If it wasn’t for those people, I could have given up a long time ago, but I never did. And I never will,” she said. “It’s been a roller coaster ride, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The musician’s career led her to play some shows in a town west of the Crescent City: Thibodaux. And after taking a liking to the community, she decided to move there a year ago.
“I love the community so much,” Hunts said. “I feel it’s a very different atmosphere playing here [Thibodaux] than in New Orleans…For me, it’s a different type of respect I feel that the people in Thibodaux have for musicians because any time I’ve played around here, everybody’s just so awesome. They interact with me. They’re clapping, listening and just so into the music. And I think that’s just special and different about it here.”
The rising star’s music can be found on all major streaming platforms. Hunts describes her style as “pop with a little bit of rock-edge to it.” Folks can follow her journey on her website and Facebook page.
“I always hope to inspire people with music,” Hunts said. “…I feel that music is the language that everybody can relate to. It’s universal.”
“American Idol” airs Sunday and Monday at 7 p.m. on ABC for Hollywood Week.