If you think you may have missed Kree Harrison ‘s initial American Idol audition, that’s because you did. The show didn’t air her Oklahoma City tryout where she performed an original song written to her mother.
This also means you missed Idol judge Randy Jackson passing on her.
But perhaps what makes this Woodville, Texas, native such a standout artist is the fact that she never tried to stand out. Encouraged by her sister Lacey to audition, Harrison admittedly chose a song that did very little to reveal her vocal capabilities.
“I didn’t think in a million years I would ever get this far,” she recently told CMT.com while reliving her Idol experience. “I was just like, I’m going to go in there and show them a piece of the artist that I am — what I can write and that I’m country. I wasn’t even thinking I have to be vocally crazy and really show off.”
Instead, Harrison’s first introduction to viewers took place during Hollywood week where she performed a chilling version of Grace Potter‘s “Stars,” a performance so moving Idol judge Keith Urban could be seen shaking the goose bumps from his arms.
“I was proud of that,” Harrison said of her strong performance, “because I was so nervous. I’ve never been that nervous. But it was because there wasn’t a crowd. There was no energy. It was four judges judging you!”
But as the show continued, Harrison proved time and again she was a top contender. Deemed “amazing” by Jackson, “flawless” by Urban and possessing a voice that often brought judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey to tears, Harrison made it all the way to the season finale. However, she ultimately fell short to R&B and pop singer Candice Glover.
But she couldn’t be happier with her current position in life. The runner-up says she’s grateful for her time and exposure on the show and is eager to begin her music career. In fact, she refers to this time in her life as the “sweet after the bitter.”
“I know that sounds kind of cheesy,” she shyly grinned. “But it is.”
She’s referring to the difficult road she’s traveled up to this point. As viewers learned on the show, Harrison tragically lost both of her parents by the age of 19. Her father died in a plane crash when she was 12, and she later lost her mother in a car accident. And though she’s never had an issue with sharing her story, she wants to make perfectly clear her purpose in doing so.
“I never wanted to make it about me losing something to gain anything — like respect” she said. “And now I realize that’s just not the case. It’s just a part of me, and it’s made me who I am.”
Plus, by sharing her story, she hopes to inspire her listeners.
“Maybe that gives them hope that you can move forward,” she said. “I think at the end of the day, it’s a choice, and you just have to literally get up and not move on — because it’s impossible — but move forward. So, I don’t know if I’ve done that for anybody, but I hope.”
Moving to Nashville for the first time when she was only 10, Harrison signed to Lyric Street Records but lost the deal after she returned to Texas following her father’s death.
“I just couldn’t grasp anything, and I didn’t feel like finding out what kind of artist I was during the grieving process because it’s just impossible,” she said.
Determined to try again, she moved back to Nashville with her sister when she was 14, landing a publishing deal with Chrysalis Records.
“And I was like, ‘I have something to say now,'” she noted, thinking back to that time in her life. “I feel like I’ve lived a life already, so I started writing songs, playing guitar and kind of got in the writing community here.”
However, heartbreak struck again when she lost her mother. Returning to her home state to be with family, Harrison found herself without a deal once more.
“I just turned 23 the other day,” she smiled. “So I have nine lives. That’s good.”
Rather than harden from her past sorrows and sadness, she exudes an undeniable strength and positivity. When asked how she remains so upbeat, she simply responds, “Why not? Why not be positive? It’s a choice. It’s just so much harder to be unhappy. It takes a lot of energy to walk around and feel sorry for yourself or be negative. And it’s draining — not just to you but to other people.”
Her debut single “All Cried Out,” co-written by Katrina Elam, Steve McEwan and Gordie Sampson, seems written with Harrison in mind. A song regarding strife and strength, she connected with the lyrics immediately.
“It was absolutely relevant to how I felt,” she said upon first hearing the song. “It’s a timeless melody, and I’m so proud of it.”
She also spoke about how her parents prompted her musical style today, crediting her mother and father with exposing her to the influential sounds of the Beatles, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, the Judds and Otis Redding.
“Can you imagine them raising me on MC Hammer or something?” she chuckled.
Currently in the studio working on her debut album, Harrison recently made her first appearance on the CMT Music Awards. What’s more, she also fulfilled one of her many lifelong dreams, making her Grand Ole Opry debut this month and sharing the night’s spotlight with Urban and fellow Idol alum Kellie Pickler.
“Oh, my God! One of my goals since I was probably old enough to talk and knowing what the Opry meant was to sing on the Opry,” she said. “Woo-hoo!”
But in typical Harrison fashion, this is only the beginning.
“I want to make a good record,” she said. “I want to tour the world. I want to be able to meet people, tour. I’ve never even been out of the country. I would love to do that. I think it would be an amazing experience!”