After advancing into “American Idol’s” top three, Winchester gave the key to its city Tuesday to Hunter “HunterGirl” Wolkonowski who will perform in the competition’s final round on Sunday.
Tuesday was also proclaimed “HunterGirl Day” by Franklin County Mayor David Alexander, and Winchester Mayor Terry Harrell presented her with the key during a special homecoming tribute on the Winchester Square in front of the Oldham Theatre that morning.
Other events included HunterGirl visiting Franklin County High School where she was graduated in 2016, a HunterGirl-themed costume contest, a parade in her honor, and a concert at Twin Creeks Resort and Marina with local bands opening ahead of HunterGirl as the final act.
With the audience nearly saying in unison, “HunterGirl, we love you,” Harrell welcomed a large audience at 9:30 a.m.
“It is certainly my honor and privilege to unite everyone this morning, but before I get started, I’d like to say to Hunter, ‘Welcome home,”’ he said.
Harrell extended his thanks to family, friends and others who helped to make the homecoming celebration a success.
Harrell highlighted several key elements that HunterGirl loves to do in her hometown area, adding a personal human element to the event, including what her favorite food and drink items are and how much she loves going to Tims Ford Lake.
He said it struck him as being odd that HunterGirl likes to go to visit pawnshops.
She replied she does it to shop for guitars.
Harrell said that most importantly, HunterGirl loves playing music.
He said her performance and success on “American Idol” has left area residents smitten.
“We all now have a HunterGirl crush,” he said.
Harrell said in his 13 years as mayor, he has given, perhaps, two keys to the city.
“We’re kind of stingy with them,” he said, jokingly. “But it’s an honor to present and for HunterGirl to receive one.”
Michael Clark, pastor at Winchester Cumberland Presbyterian Church where HunterGirl attends, led a prayer for the city’s native of recent fame.
He paid tribute to HunterGirl’s family — “You’ve been through it all.”
Clark said HunterGirl’s family support and support from her friends paved the way for her to be successful in her music career.
He said music is a gift and has been a key element in her life. He added that HunterGirl has always shared her music to help others.
“May you never neglect your service to others,” Clark said.
He said that the community has always been behind her, supporting her efforts.
“There’s a community who loves you and prays for you,” Clark said adding that HunterGirl is blessed, and he encouraged her to share those blessings with others.
Amy Dennis, field district representative for 4th District U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, continued with the accolades.
“Thank you for being you,” she said. “We will be watching and voting for you on Sunday.”
Emily Rudder, daughter of 39th District State Rep. Iris Rudder, presented HunterGirl with a proclamation from her mother and House Speaker Cameron Sexton.
“We wish you the best,” she said, adding later: “We are just all so, so proud of you. Congratulations.”
Melanie Beauchamp, Tennessee Rural Tourism and Outreach assistant commissioner, said HunterGirl is the latest in a long line of world-renowned Tennessee musicians, including Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley and B.B. King.
“It’s exciting to watch yourself unfold,” Beauchamp said to HunterGirl, adding that it’s exciting about what lies on the horizon with her career. “We’ve got your back. … All of Tennessee will be rooting for you.”
Beverly Keel, Middle Tennessee State University College of Media and Entertainment dean, and Odie Blackmon, Media and Entertainment professor, paid tribute to HunterGirl as a former MTSU student who went on to succeed.
They declared HunterGirl as an “honorary professor” and said they are honored how she has done so well, being a standout among many great MTSU alumni.
HunterGirl humbly said: “I’m a professor” with the audience cheering and laughing in reference to the accolades.
Alexander said the ladies in his office wanted to make sure HunterGirl received flowers, and he presented her with a bouquet. He also proclaimed May 17, 2022, as “HunterGirl Day.”
Ryan French, South Central Tourism Association executive director, said HunterGirl’s efforts have done a great deal to promote tourism.
“Music is the foundation of what we are in Tennessee, and music is the foundation of who we are,” he said.
French said he couldn’t make HunterGirl a professor, but he could extend his thanks for what she has done for the area through the widespread recognition she has received.
“Our job is to support you on social media and with our votes,” he said. “I think everyone here is excited to welcome you home as you become our next American Idol.”
Stanley Bean, Franklin County Director of Schools, said he knew HunterGirl had the potential to succeed when he asked her to sing at an outdoor school event that was hampered by cold weather conditions. He added that the largest share of the event-goers had left, and he told HunterGirl she could limit her singing.
However, he said HunterGirl told him she had made a commitment to sing an hour, and that’s what she did.
“I knew then that she was going to be a champion,” Bean said.
He presented her with a special jacket on behalf of the School System and wished her the best in “American Idol’s” final round.
HunterGirl took the microphone following Bean’s speech and tearfully expressed her gratitude for the accolades.
She said she couldn’t have accomplished what she’s done without the support from the entire community.
“I’m so lucky to have so many people appreciate me,” she said, referring to how she got started when she was age 14 with her hometown area continuously supporting her.
“I love you,” she told the audience, concluding with: “If I become the American Idol, it’s not for me. It’s for you guys. Thank you so much for loving me. I love you guys.”
Montana Medina, owner of the Oldham Theatre which has hosted weekly HunterGirl watch parties, displaying her performances locally on the big screen, said HunterGirl has set a tremendous example about what can be accomplished in life.
“You have given us hope,” she said.
The morning’s ceremony concluded with displaying a special mural of HunterGirl painted by local artist Emily Ragland on the back of the Oldham Theatre building.