Trent Harmon emerged as a favorite in the 15th and final season of American Idol during Hollywood Week's group round. He sang solo on doctor's orders, because he was sick with mono. The fact that he was not only able to power through a debilitating illness but sing beautifully showed that he had the talent and work ethic to go all the way. And it worked out, as he was crowned during Thursday night's series finale.
The Amory, Miss., native was matched with fellow Mississippian La'Porsha Renae in the final. Renae was the favorite for most of the season, but in the end, Harmon's craft, versatility and style (that devil-horn suit!) put him over the top. Renae found herself in hot water over the weekend after making insensitive comments about LGBT people when asked about Mississippi's discriminatory religious freedom bill. Part of the bill allows business owners to refuse to serve LGBT customers, but Harmon stresses that that won't be the case at his family's restaurant. "Anybody that walks into our restaurant can eat there," he says.
Next up for Harmon is starting work on his debut album on Big Machine Records, which, if label owner and American Idol mentor Scott Borchetta's comments, as well as Trent's own single "Falling" are accurate predictors, will sound like a "Justin Timberlake country record." And just a little bit of basking in the glow of being the the last American Idol (for now).
TVGuide.com sat down with Harmon at Fox's headquarters in New York on Monday for a chat that touched on everything from Renae's comments to his style to potential collaborators to how his grandmother keeps him honest.
TVGuide.com: It's been a few days now since you won. Has it sunk in at all?
Trent Harmon: It has and it hasn't. I think it's going to come in stages. Just the other day, I got to sing the National Anthem at Manny Pacquiao's last fight. That was something that I thought I'd never get to do, and I was so grateful to do it. Every day I'm doing things I didn't think I'd get to do, so it sinks in a little bit more every day.
Have you had any time to reflect, or have you just been going and going?
As soon as the show was over, I took five minutes and just stood in the restroom of the dressing room that I'd been in, and I thought about it. I just stood there and thought, "It was worth it. It was worth getting up early; it was worth staying up late." So many times in music, it's not always worth it. But Thursday night, it paid off.
It was really cool to see how hard you worked through the whole thing.
There's no substitute for hard work and repetition and standing in front of a mirror and practicing a song a thousand times. You can't fake it. You don't jump up on stage like "I'm going to do it today." It's the night before, and the night before that, and the night before that.
Did you ever have a moment during the competition where you realized, "oh, I might win?"
No. I did not ever expect to win. But I always prepared to. I always made sure that if the opportunity came up, I could do it. But I never did expect to win. There was so much talent — arguably the most talent ever in a season of Idol. So to win this season meant even more, on top of the fact that it's the last season.
Did you have any contact with the outside world while you were doing the show? Did you have any idea of how you were coming across?
Well, I had an inside source: my grandma. She didn't talk to me about the show, but I could tell from the way she would talk to me if I did well and if things were being perceived well on the outside. We'd talk every night for about 30 minutes, and on Thursday nights after the show, I could tell if she asked me about certain things. And I never really did get a bad vibe from her. It was always good vibes from Grandma. Which is good, because she cooks. She keeps me alive.
She would be honest if you didn't do well?
She would. She's the only one that I know would tell me, "Come on, Trent. You could do better than that."
Wow, that's not always what grandmas are like.
She's an OG, man. She's the real deal.
Was she a singer?
No, not to my knowledge. But her husband, my grandfather, he was. He passed away a few years ago. He could sing like a bird. He sung all the time, and whistled. I whistle a lot, because I heard him whistle all the time growing up.
Another thing I enjoyed watching throughout the show was your style evolution. Can you talk a little bit about that, like moving away from scarves and more into suits?
We went through different chapters, you know? And I take the look very seriously. I don't get too wrapped up in it — that's not what makes you sing well, don't get me wrong — but it's TV. It's not radio. So they see you before they hear you. And I would always try to — I didn't want to keep people guessing, but I didn't want to be predictable either, like, "Oh, he's gonna wear a suit and tie, he's gonna wear a scarf and a hat." Mostly what we did was have fun. The stylists were so nice — Joe especially, that's who was assigned to me. And we would just go shopping together. He'd be like, "Hey man, what do you think about that?" And I'd go, "Aw, Joe, that's terrible," and he'd be like, "No, it's not, trust me." And I trusted him. We just tried to keep it interesting. I wore this [points to his outfit] one week, when I sang "Chandelier." I had fun with the clothes aspect of it. It was kind of an escape from the stage.
Do you have a name for your style? Like I describe myself as a "cool dad."
We'd actually use terminology like that, like, "those are really nice 'church pants,'" or "those are really cool 'uncle jeans.'" But no, I don't know what my style would be. My mom actually asked me that the other day. She said, "Trent, there's a little boy here that wants me to help him pick out some 'Trent clothes.' Where do we go find those?" And I said, "Mom, I don't know." Some of my stuff I buy online. A lot of my stuff, I buy it at yard sales, garage sales. Don't be too proud to go hit up a good yard sale.
Did you have a fondness for band-collar shirts before?
I did. And most of them that I wore were mine. And they were kind of impressed that I showed up in those. They were, "Oh, the country boy has some taste."
La'Porsha the other day said, "I don't agree with that lifestyle," referring to LGBT people and the HB1523 bill in Mississippi. Do you have anything to say to weigh in on that?
You know, I was brought up in church. I still go to church. Found a church just around the corner from here and went, and I'm glad I got to go. But I was brought up to treat everyone equally. I come from a restaurant background, and anybody that walks into our restaurant, they can eat there. And I think that you should treat all people equally and respectfully, and that's what I do, and that's what I'm going to continue to do no matter what law is passed. That's where I stand on it. Love all people. Period.
Is there anyone who got voted off earlier on who you were surprised when they left?
My best-est good friend Manny Torres. Manny said to me, "I can't sing as well as some of the people here, but I've got heart and I've got stage presence," and I said, "Manny, you can sing as well as the other people here. Stop saying that." Manny could have hung in the Top 10, so that was a big surprise. Anybody, man. There was so much talent in Idol this year. It was hard to win, trust me.
If there anyone in particular from this season who you'd like to duet with on your album?
I feel like Porsha and I will probably be doing music together at some point, but I think it could be really cool to get Jenn Blosil on something. She's got a unique voice, and she's quirky. I like quirky. She texted me the other day. I think her voice would be really cool. I think we could do some neat stuff. I hadn't thought of that until right now.
Do you know what the album will be like? I've heard "country Justin Timberlake."
I've been saying "country soul," and I don't really know what that means just yet, but I do, you know? Soul music is in right now and it's cool to sing, but it's what comes out of me naturally. If I'm singing gospel music, or I'm singing country music, or I'm singing pop music, I sing it soulfully. That's just how it comes out. So I feel like that's going to come through on this country album.
You're going to be recording in Nashville, but do you have plans to move to Hollywood?
We haven't really laid all that out yet, I think that's what we're going to do... what's today, Monday? I think we're going to nail all that down this weekend. I'm game for whatever. I'll live anywhere.
If this ends up not being the last American Idol, would you feel jealous?
No, man. I kinda thought about that. They were like, "Look, you may not get to be the last Idol," and I thought, "Yeah, so I'll get to go back and hang out." It's kind of weird to say, but I'll get to be a Daughtry, or a David Cook, or a Carrie Underwood. I'll get to come back and talk to the people who are doing the show. If and when it happens. That's so far up the road that I wouldn't know.
Those Idols are your peers now.
It's funny you should mention that, because I was referring to David and Daughtry as Mr. Cook, Mr. Daughtry, and they were like, "You don't have to do that anymore."