‘Idol’ Alum HunterGirl On Fast Track to Stardom After ‘Best Night’ of Her Career


Heavy/Chris Hallo/Grand Ole Opry HunterGirl makes her Grand Ole Opry debut on March 2, 2024.

She may have been the runner-up on season 20 of “American Idol,” but less than two years later, HunterGirl is winning on all fronts when it comes to her country music career.

The singer-songwriter has kicked off 2024 with one success after another, including being named in January to CMT’s “Next Women of Country” list, making history with her first single, and being asked by “Idol” judge Luke Bryan to join him on tour this summer.

To top it all off, HunterGirl — born Hunter Wolkonowski — made her highly-anticipated debut at the Grand Ole Opry on March 2, 2024, and teared up as she received a standing ovation from the crowd and a surprise honor from her alma mater.

“I have dreamed of playing at the Grand Ole Opry since I was a little girl,” she wrote in an Instagram post after her appearance, declaring her debut in a separate post as the “BEST. NIGHT. EVER.”

Here’s what you need to know:

HunterGirl Shares Her Gratitude Through Tears During Grand Ole Opry Debut

HunterGirl, 25, learned late last year that she’d been invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry and posted videos on social media of her sharing the news with her family on Christmas.

On March 2, as seen in a video she shared of her debut, the crowd roared after stepped onto the famed circle on the Grand Ole Country stage and laughed, “Y’all are gonna make me cry, don’t do it!”

But she couldn’t hold back the tears, softly saying, “Thank you, guys. Y’all, I’m so excited to be here tonight. I wanted to be on this stage my whole life. I told myself I wouldn’t cry but it’s hard not to.”

She then introduced her first single, “Ain’t About You,” which quickly became the most-added song at country radio stations across the U.S. — a feat usually achieved by the biggest names in country music — when it was first released in October.

The inspiring song, which she wrote when she was struggling with her music career just before making it onto “Idol,” made HunterGirl is the first female country artist in over 30 years to write her debut radio single by herself, according to BBR.

“This was my ‘leaving Nashville’ song and it’s my ‘staying in Nashville’ song now,” she told the Grand Ole Opry audience through tears.

Middle Tennessee State University & Charlie Daniels Jr. Surprise HunterGirl to Honor Her Work With Veterans

HunterGirl Grand Ole Opry

Chris Hollo/BBR EntertainmentHunterGirl receives a custom jacket to commemorate her honorary professorship at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) from (L to R) Opry rep Mike Terry, MTSU’s Beverly Keel retired Army Lt. General Keith Huber, and MTSU’s Dr. Hilary Miller on March 2, 2024

One moment HunterGirl did not expect during her first time on the Grand Ole Opry stage was to be honored for her work with U.S. military veterans.

According to a release from BBR, representatives from her alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), surprised HunterGirl onstage with a custom blue flight jacket to “celebrate her MTSU honorary professorship and everything she’s done” for the university’s Veterans and Military Center, named after country legend Charlie Daniels and his wife Hazel.

HunterGirl has worked extensively in music therapy groups with veterans and was originally given the honorary professorship during her hometown visit on “American Idol” in 2022. At the time, she told Business Insider, how much she loved writing songs with veterans to help them cope with PTSD and express their reflections on serving their country.

“We turn a story into a song,” she said. “I go into a room with a veteran and they talk about what they went through. We go record it in a studio and at the end, they have that song forever.”

In a video of the special moment at the Grand Ole Opry, the group helped her into the jacket and HunterGirl shouted, “I’m a professor!”

Next up for HunterGirl is touring the U.S. with Bryan beginning June 22. Bryan chose her and several other rising stars to open for him on different dates across the U.S. throughout the summer. “Idol” season 19 winner Chayce Beckham will also be part of the tour for the second year in a row.

When HunterGirl shared that she was going to be part of Bryan’s “Mind of a Country Boy Tour” on February 2, she wrote on Instagram, ” Thank you SO much to @lukebryan for always believing in me. I can’t wait to be on the road with you this summer!”