Senior Airman Paula Hunt is going to Hollywood.
The 20-year-old from Bellevue, Neb., earned a coveted spot on American Idol’s Hollywood stage with a soulful rendition of Etta James’ “All I Could Do Was Cry” during the Omaha audition that aired Jan. 30.
Hunt is a member of the Air Force’s Heartland of America Band at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
The 20-year-old enthusiastically described her Air Force job as a mix of community relations gigs and troop morale visits.
“We bring happiness and home to people who are deployed and can’t see their families for months at a time,” she said. “I love my job to death, I get so much gratification doing it, and I just think that the next step is to bring my voice to a bigger stage.”
The judges agreed — all three voted to send her to Hollywood, where performers compete for the most viewer votes to become the final contestant and the next American Idol. The winner is awarded a record contract and the top 10 go on tour, performing in major cities across America.
Idol judge Jennifer Lopez told Hunt she has a talent that “still hasn’t begun to blossom.”
Hunt said she is most influenced by her mother, Yolanda Kynard, a gospel and R&B singer whose career was cut short in 2007 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“I’ve been singing since I could talk,” Hunt said.
With her gold ticket to Hollywood in hand, Hunt rushed from the audition room to her mother and a crowd of friends and family while the judges continued to praise her vocals.
“She’s one of my favorites,” Lopez said.