JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – The popular singing competition American Idol features a local talent this year, whose voice has propelled her through the early rounds.
Hardy native Lauren Gray made a special appearance Saturday in Jonesboro. The 23 year old was asked to sing the national anthem live before the Arkansas State University women's game.
"I know there's a lot of you guys that are looking out and watching for me, so I want to thank you guys so much," Gray told the Red Wolves crowd, with a noticeable rasp in her voice.
She announced that a recording would play, instead, of her singing the national anthem a few months ago, capturing the notes she would have hit if not for her cold.
The recording still drew cheers and plenty of applause from the crowd, as many of them likely watched Gray advance to the top 40 this week on American Idol. Her appearance Saturday showed the amount of local support she has gained since auditioning for the show.
"Here at the ASU game today, this is great," Gray said. "A lot of people came out today to support, and I'm so very grateful. I just want to say thank you to everybody, and keep watching."
Fans lined up to take pictures and get Gray's autograph after the national anthem played. Friends and family in Hardy were familiar with her bluesy tone, but many got their first chance to hear her sing in St. Louis at her Idol audition. After belting out Adele's "One and Only," judge Jennifer Lopez declared Gray one of the best female voices she'd heard.
"Me going to that competition, I just had hopes," Gray noted. "But, when Jennifer Lopez said you don't have a clue how big it's going to be, she was right. I didn't have a clue."
Gray's popularity has also extended online. More than 900 people have "liked" a Facebook fan page named for her. One person even commented, "Way to go Lauren!!! You've made Arkansas proud!!!!"
"Even though I'm from Jonesboro, it's just neat having somebody on there that's kind of close to home, and it's just exciting to watch her," Candace Sipes said.
Sipes and her friend Allison Neeley snapped a picture with the singer. The loyal Idol viewers say they're pulling for Gray to be the second Arkansan to take the talent contest's crown. Kris Allen from Conway won the competition during season eight.
"Everybody's been so supportive, so wonderful," Gray said. "I could not have asked for more fans and people supporting from Arkansas. It's been amazing."