Laine Hardy Reflects on His New Album and Grand Ole Opry Debut: 'It Feels Like a Dream'

The American Idol winner released his debut album, Here's to Anyone, on Friday

Laine Hardy acts as if he doesn't know how he ended up here.

Certainly, the spotlight from his win on Season 17 of American Idol back in 2019 is the obvious reason, but Hardy has certainly had to push himself to move past the momentary recognition that comes when a teen idol wins a singing competition show.

And he does just that on his debut album Here's to Anyone, a hearty 11-song collection of songs produced by Michael Knox that illuminates the authenticity of the somewhat subdued kid from Louisiana.

"I'm just really, really introverted," he tells PEOPLE while momentarily glancing down at the ground beneath him. "But I'll get there."

Laine Hardy
Laine Hardy. Robby Klein

Granted, there is no rush for Hardy to get anywhere in particular, since where he finds himself right now is impressive enough. Just last month, Hardy made his Grand Ole Opry debut, where he was joined onstage by fellow American Idol alum Lauren Alaina and mentor Bobby Bones.

"It just feels like a dream to have been given that opportunity," Hardy remarks. "I know a lot of my influences growing up have stood on that wooden circle at the Opry, and to be able to stand in the same place, that's pretty cool. It was a dream of mine that I got to make true."

Laine Hardy
Bobby Bones and Laine Hardy. Chris Hollo

Indeed, via milestones such as this, the 21-year-old seems to find himself getting used to the increasing amount of attention his music is getting, while still holding onto those Southern manners he was brought up with.

"There is good confidence and there is bad confidence," he says quietly.

Laine Hardy
Laine Hardy. Chris Hollo

Sitting in a refurbished chicken coop-turned studio that he worked to create alongside his father, Hardy is quick to apologize for the room's lack of organization, in which a random futon sits alongside one wall.

"If we could have gotten more wood, it would have been done sooner," Hardy says, shrugging his shoulders as he looks around at the somewhat stark white walls. "But it's coming along."

Laine Hardy
Laine Hardy's Here's to Anyone. Buena Vista  Records 

In some ways, it's easy to forget that the singer is just 21 years old, as his somewhat retro look and traditional sound can fool one's mind to think he's been on this earth far longer. And especially within an album infused with Hardy's obvious classic rock and traditional country influences, it's as if one is listening to an old soul.

But the hesitancy in his voice that comes out when he talks about his songwriting, for example, seems to point to the fact that the kid has a long way to go.

Laine Hardy
Laine Hardy. Chris Hollo

"I ain't too comfortable yet with releasing any original stuff I've written, because I want it to be okay," explains Hardy, who does snag co-writing credits on album cuts "One of Those" and the impressive "Other LA."

"There are a lot of songwriters out of Nashville that are just so great, and they write these songs that tell these stories that really talk to me. And to be able to tell these stories out on the road and out on the streaming services and everything…I just feel grateful to be able to do that with these people's songs because it's their story too."

And make no mistake — in terms of the music that just might represent the sonic direction Hardy is heading towards, there is no doubt he is maturing, and he is stretching before our very eyes, and that's certainly evident in the sexy swagger of album cut "Comin' Down."

"It's different," he says about the song written by Justin Weaver, Josh Miller and Josh Mirenda. "It's really different. I like exploring all kinds of different styles and different ways of making a song. At first, I was struggling with singing it because it was different for me, but I wanted to experiment with it."

The album also includes the songs that are so very Laine Hardy, from the somewhat swaggy "Memorize You" to the sweet-sounding "California Won't," which was incidentally written by the late Busbee with Jon Nite and the late Andrew Dorff.

"That song is just one of my all-time favorites that I've ever recorded," says Hardy of the heartfelt and so very visual song. "But I didn't know that… My team told me all about [Busbee and Dorff] and how great they were, and I started to feel like I didn't deserve this kind of song. I'm very thankful."

As the air seems to get a tad heavy amongst the reality of the conversation, Hardy's dog Jet decides to make an appearance, and the budding country music star's eyes grow brighter.

"He's almost 2 years old," Hardy offers up. "I hope to take him on the tour bus someday, but not this time around. (Hardy is currently out on his Monster Energy Outbreak headlining tour.) There will be plenty of time for him to come with me."

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