Grundy County native HunterGirl advanced to the Top 10 of American Idol, Season 20, on Monday, April 25 with her rendition of Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5.” She also happens to be the niece of Grundy County General Sessions Judge William R. (Trey) Anderson, III.
“I didn’t know she was on American Idol until my mother told me,” said Judge Anderson. “My mother told me I couldn’t tell anybody. It was a surprise. She didn’t tell us she was auditioning. I didn’t know until I saw a picture of her on stage with Katy Perry and that was right before it came out.”
Although it was a secret, Judge Anderson wasn’t surprised HunterGirl was selected to compete on American Idol. He’s been singing her praises since she was a young child.
“We’ve been expecting it for years, we just didn’t know when it was going to happen,” he said. “She’s worked hard all these years and I’m happy to see it’s happened for her. The whole mountain is excited.”
By “the whole mountain,” Judge Anderson is referring to HunterGirl’s hometown of Gruetli-Laager. He describes it as a very small town with a post office and a dollar store. HunterGirl attended North Elementary School there and wrote a song about the little blue house she grew up in.
“I remember her singing in the car with us, as a kid,” said Judge Anderson. “She’s got a huge voice. I don’t know if that’s come through yet on American Idol, but she’s always had this booming, loud voice. If you were in the car with her at five years old, it was a little painful at times. She never needed a microphone in church. They would give her one and she would blow us out of church.”
HunterGirl was singing by age three, writing lyrics by age nine and moved to Winchester, Tenn., in Franklin County, at age 11, where she continued to pursue her music career.
“She sang at the dock at Tim’s Ford Lake when she moved to Franklin County,” said Judge Anderson. “From her church, she had the old man band. It was a group of older guys who would play music for her to sing. We called her HunterGirl and the Old Man Band. They would set up on the dock by the restaurant on the lake and would draw a crowd of boaters.”
From the mountain, to Winchester and back to Nashville, HunterGirl’s fans are cheering her on.
“When she graduated from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), she started singing in downtown Nashville and at the airport,” said Judge Anderson. “All of that, I think, gave her good experience. I was nervous about her being in Nashville all by herself, but she handles it well. I think that’s how she learned to handle nerves. She’s nervous about the competition, but that all goes away when she’s on stage. She’s just a natural born performer.”
And what should every natural born performer have? A catchy stage name, of course!
“HunterGirl came from my sister naming her Hunter,” said Judge Anderson. “We all asked why are you naming her Hunter, that’s a boy’s name? She wanted to name her Hunter and at that time it was a popular name. There were a couple of boys in school named Hunter, so they started calling her Hunter the Girl and my dad started calling her HunterGirl. It just kind of stuck.”
HunterGirl is the 23-year-old daughter of Chris and Urla Wolkonowski. Urla is Judge Anderson’s sister. Both parents were in attendance for the April 25 show, appearing calm, cool and collected. Judge Anderson said HunterGirl’s parents have supported her singing career from the beginning, paying for song recordings and the creation of HunterGirl’s first album. The American Idol experience, however, is nerve-racking for them.
“I think Urla was just so nervous, she was afraid to move,” said Judge Anderson. “We all talk before the show comes on. We were surprised when she was just calm. I don’t think I would be that calm, if I was there. I almost got to go this weekend, but it didn’t work out. I’m a big Dolly Parton fan, so when she chose to sing Dolly’s song last night I was pretty excited. I can’t sit down and watch her, I have to stand up and watch her when I’m at home. My son comes in from Tennessee Tech, and my daughter and her husband come over. My sister has a group at her house watching it, too.”
Judge Anderson believes her early years as a local singer gave her the experience and stage presence necessary to perform on American Idol.
“She’s never met a stranger,” said Judge Anderson. “She’s a lot like my dad, her grandpa. She’s just very comfortable on stage. She always has been since she’s been little.”
Even though HunterGirl doesn’t let nerves get the best of her, Judge Anderson finds himself getting upset if he reads a negative comment about his niece on social media. It’s something that affects the entire family. Still, they understand it comes with the national exposure she’s receiving. They are hoping that same exposure will lead to a record deal.
“I want everyone to vote for her and support her as much as they can,” said Judge Anderson. “One thing we’ve all talked about is I just want the Lord’s Will for her. If it’s the Lord’s Will for her to win American Idol, that’s what I want for her. To follow her dreams and be happy. I think she’s received enough national exposure that she’s going to be ok whether she wins it or not.”
American Idol airs on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. CDT on ABC.
Click here to watch HunterGirl perform Dolly Parton’s hit, “9 To 5.”