American Idol Alum HunterGirl Gets Teary-Eyed As She Earns Standing Ovation During Grand Ole Opry Debut

“I have dreamed of playing at the Grand Ole Opry since I was a little girl,” says HunterGirl.


Madeleine O’Connell

| Posted on

March 5, 2024

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HunterGirl; Photo by Chris Hollo

After years of dreaming of the day she would get her time to shine on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, HunterGirl’s bucket list moment finally came to fruition on Saturday, March 2, 2024.

Stepping out in her silver studded black boots and matching black dress, the Wheelhouse Records/19 Recordings artist made her debut in the coveted venue surrounded by friends, family, and a room full of country music lovers. 

“I have dreamed of playing at the Grand Ole Opry since I was a little girl,” says HunterGirl. “It was a full circle moment getting to step into the circle that night. Singing on that stage felt like becoming a part of something greater than myself.” 

First, she offered a passionate delivery of an unreleased track titled “Clockworks,” which promoted a standing ovation from the packed-out audience. Seeing the support from those in attendance moved the rising star to tears. 

“I told myself I wouldn’t cry, but it’s hard not to,” she can be heard telling the crowd in a clip shared on social media. 

Sharing The Journey Of Her Debut Single, ‘Ain’t About You’

HunterGirl; Photo by Chris Hollo
HunterGirl; Photo by Chris Hollo

HunterGirl then proceeded to share the sentimental story behind the next song she would be singing, “Ain’t About You.” This song came out of a time when she didn’t know if her love for music would ever be enough to build a successful career. Two weeks later, she auditioned for ABC’s American Idol and her life changed forever. Her debut single held a meaning of hope as well as sadness and uncertainty at that time, however, since then the song has shifted along with her growing success, and as a result, it now means something completely different to her.

“This next song is my first single at country radio. I’m so excited about it,” she began. “This song is everything to me. It’s a song I wrote by myself when nothing was going on for me in Nashville a few years ago and I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid. I came home one day after playing a show and just didn’t know if anything was ever going to work out for me. I picked up my guitar, sat on my floor and called this one my ’45-minute conversation with Jesus.’”

She concluded by saying, “This is my leaving Nashville song, it’s my staying in Nashville song now and it’s a full circle moment getting to be in this circle tonight. Thank you, guys.”

Produced by award-winning producer Lindsay Rimes, “Ain’t About You” officially impacted country radio on Monday (Oct. 23) and upon its debut, claimed the esteemed title of most-added that week. The powerful tune also makes HunterGirl the first female country artist in over 30 years to write her debut radio single by herself. 

Earning A Special Gift From Her Alma Mater

HunterGirl; Photo by Chris Hollo
HunterGirl; Photo by Chris Hollo

Back in January, HunterGirl released a video to social media letting both her family and fans know to “mark your calendars,” for her long-awaited debut at the Opry. When the day finally came, the American Idol Season 20 runner-up was overcome with emotion. In addition to getting to showcase her songs on the coveted stage, she also received a heartwarming surprise from two members of her alma mater of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU).

Retired Army Lt. General Keith Huber, Dr. Hilary Miller, Veterans Center Director, and Beverly Keel, Dean College of Media and Entertainment appeared on stage amid her performance and gifted HunterGirl with a customized blue flight jacket. This jacket celebrates her MTSU honorary professorship as well as her dedication to the university’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Center.

The East Tennessee native comes from a military family, but she first got connected with the center as a result of her countless hours spent working with veterans through Operation Song. The emerging artist has never let her growing fame get in the way of her continuing to help veterans tell their stories through songs as a form of creative therapy. The incredibly moving moment was made even more special because of the fact that Charlie Daniels Jr. whom she worked alongside in the center, was in the audience watching the talented songstress be recognized for her contributions over the weekend. 

Next up, HunterGirl will be joining Luke Bryan on select dates of his 2024 Mind Of A Country Boy Tour throughout the summer. She will also make her debut at several festivals including Tortuga Music Festival on April 5 and Faster Horses Festival on July 21.

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Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.