Arts and Culture

A 20-year-old construction worker from a small town in eastern Kentucky won American Idol on Sunday night, joining a long line of country music talent from his region of the commonwealth.

Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers, Loretta Lynn, and now Noah Thompson. They’re all from the same Appalachian region along the Kentucky country music highway

Thompson stole the show Sunday night with a cover of the Bruce Springsteen tune “I’m On Fire” and carried home the victory with his single “One Day Tonight” on the 20th season of American Idol. 

Harold Slone, the mayor of Thompson’s hometown of Louisa, said the whole town of around 3,000 people was behind Thompson, cheering him on and decorating their yards and businesses with signs of support. Once a week, locals gathered at the Garden Theater in Louisa to watch Thompson on Idol. 

“Everybody was just behind him 100%. It was just a tremendous feeling to have our entire community behind one purpose,” Slone said.

Slone told WFPL News that Thompson grew up in the same holler as bluegrass stars Ricky Skaggs and Larry Cordle. He said families in the area have a tradition of playing music together on their porches. 

“I grew up out in that area myself, and my family and so many families, sitting on the front porch,” he said. “When you were growing up and your brothers and sisters and uncles, aunts all played music on the porch … and you learned to play something.” 

 

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The closing of coal mines in the region put many towns like Louisa into economic distress, but Slone said that Thompson is further proof that his community is resilient, and that no matter where you are from or what you’ve got, “if you follow your dreams and work hard at it, you can be successful.”

Late Sunday night, Thompson told USA TODAY that he was in shock that he actually won. He said he wouldn’t have ever even entered the competition if it had not been for a friend who signed him up for an audition. 

“Anybody could have won this show, you know what I mean? I just didn’t think that it was me,” Thompson said. 

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.