OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- A vocalist in the Air Force Heartland of America Band received three yeses from the judges when she tried out for American Idol Oct. 14 at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, earning her a ticket to Hollywood Week.
Senior Airman Paula Hunt's advancement to Hollywood was kept secret until the Omaha Auditions aired Jan. 30.
"Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamt of standing on a grand stage and performing my music, even if I was just standing on the coffee table in our living room with my little karaoke microphone in hand," Hunt said.
Hunt, 20, has been singing since before she could talk, according to her mother, Yolonda Kynard, who put her in the church choir at a young age.
"When Paula was about six or seven months old, she knew the ABC song," Kynard said. "She would get all excited when I would start singing it and she would try to sing along with me. This would just shock and amaze people."
Hunt, a Bellevue native and graduate of Bellevue West High School, never stopped singing, and during her senior year in high school she was encouraged to try out for the Air Force Band.
"I learned about the auditions for the Air Force Band my senior year in high school from Master Sgt. Lara Murdzia who heard me sing at a program at my high school," Hunt said. "I wasn't sure if I should join the military. Then I thought about my grandfather, who's an Air Force retiree, and I realized that nothing would make me happier than singing and serving my country the best way I know how."
Hunt has served as a member of the Air Force Heartland of America Band since August 2011. She is currently a journeyman vocalist for the band's rock ensemble, Raptor.
"I love performing with the band because I get to work with so many unique and talented people," Hunt said. "I get to perform with others who love music like I do, and I have learned so much about myself and my voice while playing with the Air Force Band. I have grown as a vocalist, something you can't just do anywhere."
And the talents Hunt brings to the band's mission are felt throughout.
"Senior Airman Hunt has brought a youthful exuberance to the band," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Packard, the Heartland of America Band first sergeant. "Her fresh perspective is an asset toward strengthening the message we deliver to our younger audience base. She is an amazingly talented vocalist with the potential to be an amazing leader as her rank and responsibilities increase."
Trying out for the Heartland of America Band was one thing, but trying out for American Idol was something Hunt said she never planned on. With a little help and encouragement from her mother and sister, she decided to give it a try.
"I thought it was a great idea," Kynard said. "Her voice has matured quite a bit, and she is at the point where I would love for her to share her voice with the world."
Even though Hunt had been through auditions before and is use to singing in front of others, she still found herself uneasy before and during her American Idol audition.
"I was nervous, and then I just went for it," Hunt said. "Once I made it to Hollywood Week, I realized that this could be the gateway to me getting to live out those dreams I've had since I was a little girl. I am really excited."
Hunt's advancement to Hollywood came as no surprise to those who knew her.
"I was not surprised because I know what an amazing vocalist she is," Packard said. "We were all very excited for her and wished her the best. We're a small unit and when a member of our band family has an opportunity like American Idol, we strongly support them in their endeavor."
Singing and chasing her dream of preforming for others is not just Hunt's dream, it was also a dream of her mother's, something Hunt thought about while auditioning for American Idol.
"I thought about my mom and her singing, and how her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis took her chance to do all of this away," Hunt said. "I'm doing this for me but also for my family."
And her family is very proud of her, not only for her success with her American Idol audition, but also as an Airman.
"I am very proud of my daughter," Kynard said. "She's matured and become so much more than I could have hoped for. I knew I wanted the best for her, but I didn't know how amazing things could be or get for her until now."