C.J. Harris has come a long way from playing bars in Jasper, Alabama to making it to the Top 6 on Season 13 of American Idol — and his journey wasn't without a few bumps along the way. Harris weathered some pretty harsh criticism on the show about his singing style, but that was nothing compared to some of the prejudice he faced back home when he was first starting out as a musician.
"I would go in some bars and people didn't want to see [me]," Harris told TVGuide.com this week. "It didn't matter how good I was. They didn't want to hear it. I've had people walk out on me. I've booked shows back at home, and I'd come and play the show, and the owner would come up to me and say, 'Hey, people just aren't enjoying your music tonight. We want you to cut it short.' It was obviously because of one reason. I've dealt with that."
Harris says Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish, who's now a solo country artist, has been a huge influence. "He's the only black guy really that's in country music, and it can be tough at times for him to fight through it," Harris says. "For him to stand what he's doing and always stay true to himself, that's inspiring."
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As far as the judges' critiques on Idol — particularly Harry Connick Jr.'s constant comments about Harris' pitch and intonation — the singer says he took it all in stride.
"It's something that I really didn't know, because as far as music, I'm self-taught," he noted. "I'm glad he pointed it out so I can work on it. ... Everything happens for a reason. I believe that he was the judge that needed to be there while I was there, to give me the advice that I needed."
Check out C.J.'s answers to our American Idol exit interview lightning round below, and check out his final performance here. Will you miss seeing C.J. on the show?
1. Name three albums you would bring with you to a desert island. I would probably bring John Mayer's Where the Light Is; Otis Redding; Hootie and the Blowfish, Cracked Rear View
2. What was the first album you fell in love with? Actually it was Where the Light Is by John Mayer. I had been playing music for a while, but I grew up doing gospel music and different things like that. ... Once I got older, I started listening to different music and different albums.
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3. If someone wanted to torture you with a song on repeat, what would it be? "Single Ladies." Oh man. And "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" by Tiny Tim.
4. Name a song you wish you'd written. "Gravity" would have been a good one, by John Mayer. I wish I would have written that one.
5. If you could duet with anyone living or dead, who would you pick? Ray Charles
6. What's your most embarrassing karaoke or singing experience? When I was like 6 years old, I got up in church and sang R. Kelly's "It Seems Like You're Ready." Because they asked me to get up and sing a song, and I didn't know. I was like, alright, well I'll get up here. I bust out an R. Kelly song in the middle of church, and everybody's laughing.
7. What's your favorite album or song that you're listening to currently? I've been listening to? Bill Withers' "Kissing My Love" and David Nail, "Whatever She's Got."
8. What song or artist made you want to be a singer? When I got in about eighth grade, I started listening to a lot of Hootie. When I was listening to [Darius Rucker] and saw what he was doing with that acoustic guitar, and playing in front of huge [crowds], he really inspired me.
9. What's your biggest musical guilty pleasure? I don't know. I kind of listen to everything. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
10. What's one song you would have loved to perform on Idol that you didn't get to? "When My Train Pulls In" by Gary Clark Jr. I actually was going to go for "Drift Away" this week by Dobie Gray, and some Otis Redding, "Try a Little Tenderness." That didn't work out, but those were my top songs that I really wanted to do but I didn't get to.
American Idol airs Wednesdays at 8/7c and Thursdays at 9/8c on Fox.