WINCHESTER, Tenn. — In advance of her appearance in the season finale of “American Idol,” MTSU alumna Hunter Wolkonowski went home to Winchester, Tennessee, Tuesday, May 17, to bask in the love and support of her fellow Franklin Countians.
Popularly known as “HunterGirl,” the 23-year-old country singer-songwriter will display her musicality again on the May 22 episode of the ABC-TV talent competition program in a final three-way showdown. The winning artist receives a $250,000 grand prize and a recording contract.
To bolster her prior to her last contest round, some 500 people endured the hot sun in front of the Oldham Theatre on Winchester’s public square to watch their native daughter receive numerous honors and presents, including the key to the city, a resolution from the state of Tennessee and an honorary professorship from her alma mater.
Beverly Keel, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment, explained that HunterGirl has a great deal to teach students.
“As you inspire millions of young men and women across America, you remind us that the voices of small-town America are vital to this country,” Keel said. “You’re teaching us to listen to our hearts, stay true to who we are and celebrate our uniqueness.”
A short video recap of the honorary professorship presentation is available below.
Wolkonowski, who graduated from MTSU in spring 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in the Department of Recording Industry‘s Music Business Program, took a songwriting class from Odie Blackmon, an associate recording industry professor, in 2019. He praised her humility and her authenticity.
“I found her voice to be unique, and then Hunter distinguished herself by being a very generous co-writer and fellow student,” Blackmon said. “She came (to MTSU) to work on her craft and her skills, but she knew who she was.”
Blackmon also praised HunterGirl for continuing to work with veterans, using her music as therapy for organizations like Freedom Sings USA and Operation Song.
Stanley Bean, superintendent of the Franklin County School System, presented HunterGirl with a blue-jeaned jacket festooned with silver sequins and “HunterGirl” on the back. It was a perfect match for her white blouse, blue-jean shorts and boots.
Montana Medina, owner of the Oldham Theatre, gave HunterGirl a suitable-for-hanging replica of a mural that will stay at the back of the movie house. The mural depicts a guitar surrounded by flowers. The back of HunterGirl’s replica is autographed by local fans.
Talking through tears, Wolkonowski expressed her gratitude to the cheering crowd.
“Thank you guys for always supporting me,” she said. “Thank you for always having my back. You know, I’ve wanted to chase my dream for a really long time, but I knew I couldn’t do it without any of you guys. The point of music is to be able to share it with people … If I become the next ‘American Idol,’ it’s not going to be for me. It’s going to be for all of you guys.”
Fellow MTSU alumna Angie Fuller was the assistant principal when Wolkonowski attended the local high school, and the young woman was one of Fuller’s students.
Fuller, who received her bachelor’s degree in health and physical education in 1964 and her master’s degree in secondary education in 1965, is now the mayor pro tem of Franklin County.
“Our county is so, so happy, and we’re supporting her 100 percent,” Fuller said.
Tuesday’s activities in Winchester also included a parade, costume contest and, of course, musical performances.