The fifteenth and last American Idol winner spoke with reporters Friday afternoon about the hard work and dedication it took to take the crown. The Mississippi native also shared his thoughts on why, as a blue eyed soul singer, he’s looking forward to making a country album.
If Trent had the opportunity to sing with a music star on the Idol finale, who would he have liked it to be? Elton John.
What kind of album would he like to make? I sing blue eyed soul. I talked it over with Mr. Scott and he said ‘Justin Timberlake is thinking about making a country album.’ Define country in 2016. I think it can be whatever you want it to be. We’re going to try to make an album that country supporters would pick up. Country supporters they go to shows, they go to festivals. They buy CDs. They download stuff. If you can make it in country, you can have a career.
How does he feel about his win after a few hours have passed? Has he had any sleep? I’ve got sleep scheduled for next Friday at 2 pm! It hasn’t really sunk in yet. This morning when I hopped out of bed, I jumped in the shower, I started doing my warm ups. I started practicing my song and I realized that today I don’t have to do that anymore. I’m realizing that I can decompress a little bit at a time. I don’t know how long it will take. It may take a week or a month before I really come down out of–I hate to say PTSD–but I’m still kind of in that mode where I feel like at any moment I could get cut. But I can’t get cut anymore.
Which alums did he get to hang out with yesterday? You name it! If they’ve been on the show, I got to hang out with them. Some bucket list people that I got to hang out with: I got to hang out with Jordin Sparks again. I got to talk to David Archuleta for awhile, David Cook. I got to have a pretty long conversation with James Durbin. You name it, man. I got to talk to them last night. It was great.
Were you surprised to win? Did you consider yourself the underdog? What did you say to La’Porsha as you were hugging her on stage in that moment? I didn’t consider myself the underdog. When I auditioned in July, I didn’t expect to win, but I prepared to win in every facet of this competition. I told La’Porsha that no matter what name comes out of Ryan’s mouth, we’re gonna hug until they separate us. I don’t care whose name gets called. We just won a car! You don’t win cars every day, so we’re going to be OK.
Scott Borchetta called him the hardest working contestant on the show. What did he do above and beyond the normal Idol requirements and rehearsal schedule? I wake up, go to bed, wake up in the middle of the night. If I am awake or asleep I am rehearsing. If I have two minutes to myself to do anything, I am in rehearsal mode. I didn’t know what I was doing, but that’s what it took. I was too dumb to know that I was in go mode all the time. But it paid off.
How old was he when he found out he could sing the way he does? Are there old classic soul singers that have influenced his style? Nobody has asked me a question like that! I learned that I could do things with my voice that I didn’t know I could do, probably the middle to the last few years of my college experience. Just in the last 2-4 years. I think I always heard the notes in my head while I’d be listening to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Or I’d be listening to the Temptations. My grandma always played a lot of Temptations and a lot of Michael Jackson, Jackson 5 back in the day, when I’d be at her house and she’d be cooking. I would hear those notes in my head that I would want to sing, but I never tried to sing them. One day they just jumped out of my mouth.
On the song Amazing Grace. It’s the song he sang at his friend’s funeral. What does the song mean to him? I keep Amazing Grace in my back pocket no matter where I go. Whether it’s a Christian event that I’m at, or if it’s just a secular event. Maybe it’s just because I know the words to it or because the words mean something to just about anybody whether you have any religious beliefs or not. That song means something. There’s a reason it’s called a classic. I’ve sung it at so many different things that have meant so much to me. That one is special to me. That was the first one that my mom said ‘Trent, sing this part right here.’ And I sang it. And she said ‘can you switch over and sing this part right here.’ That was when she realized I could sing harmony when I was four or five years old.
Was there anything he was surprised to learn about himself through his American Idol journey? There are so many intangibles that are encompassed in this reality singing competition. It’s not so much singing. I would say singing is less than 10% of it. I knew that I could hang in the singing department. But I didn’t know that I could do interviews. Nobody has really coached us on how to talk to people in a public setting. Like, right now, I’m talking to you, having a conversation, and I’ve never done this before in my life. That has really surprised me. It surprised my parents too. They said ‘Trent, you’ve talked to more people in interviews than you’ve talked to us in your whole 25 years of life! Who taught you how to do that?’
What was the most surreal moment for him. When I turned around and I saw my mom and dad and sister and my puppy dog walk out on to the stage two weeks ago. It was strange…but when they walked out on the stage, I was like WOW. We look good as a collective unit, as a family. We look like we’re doing stuff–the Harmon collective unit. I’m doing something for my family. That was pretty surreal.
Have any of the former Idols given him advice on how to handle winning Idol? They said ‘Man, you seem pretty genuine. Don’t ever ever quit, don’t ever get out of that head.’ They didn’t give me very much advice in the moment. I was lucky enough to exchange numbers with a lot of people that I never thought I’d have in my phone book. They said, ‘text me.’ And I could tell that they meant it. They said ‘text me at any time of the day or night, ask me a question.’ I got numbers from Jordin Sparks and Ruben Studdard. It was just surreal for them to recount that ‘hey man, you’re the last one. We want to help you in any way that we can.’ I think they mean it.
Will he move to Nashville? I don’t know at this point. I’m sure that I will float between Nashville, Mississippi and Arkansas for quite awhile. I’ve been doing the float between two states for the last 4 or 5 years and I’ve gotten pretty good at it if you manage your time wisely. I’m down to live wherever I’m happy. If that happens to be Nashville for the next few years, then I’ll live in Nashville. If that happens to be Belize, then I’ll live in Belize.
He came into the competition singing songs on the soulful side, but he’ll be recording as a country/soul artist. Could he talk about his relationship to country music? That’s a good question. I was just telling Mr. Scott last night, ‘Man I don’t think you fully realize how much country music I listen to.’ Whenever I really got the opportunity to pick the song myself, 100% myself, I was doing country songs on the show. That was only sprinkled in very very rarely, because we would always get to pick our own songs, but there would be influence from other people as well. I sang a couple of Chris Stapletons and at that point, it was fully realized that ‘this guy is confusing enough as it is. He talks so country but he sings like a soul singer. Now he’s actually singing country.’ I’ve always enjoyed all the classics. I love Conway Twitty. I’ve always been a big Conway Twitty fan. I’m a big Elvis fan. Elvis did country. I’m a Ray Charles fan. Ray Charles made a country album. That’s a point in case right there–define what country is in 2016. Ray Charles kind of broke that standard a long time ago. Justin Timberlake’s working on a country album. I feel like being able to sing multiple genres is going to help me going forward to make a country album that will be palpable to a lot of different people.
Is he a songwriter? If so, does he plan to co-write for his album? I am a songwriter. That will be decided by the powers that be. I don’t always have to have the best idea coming from myself. I just want the best idea. We’ll have to see where it leads us.
Did he happen to meet Simon Cowell? Did he give him any advice? Unfortunately, I did not get to meet Mr. Simon and I am still pretty upset about that. I was watching it (Simon’s bit with Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest during the finale) from the dressing room, so I really can’t give a lot of input to that. I wanted to meet him real real bad. Worse than you probably know. But I didn’t get the chance.
What advice did mentor Sia give him about singing her song, Chandelier? Sia said that she wrote this song from a state of struggling with alcoholism and that If I had a family member that struggled with alcoholism that that would be a route that I could sing that song from. While I did lose a family member this year to that struggle with alcoholism, I tried to go down that path, and it was too morbid. It was too sad. [Instead] I sang it from a happy stage. I [asked her if I could do that]. This is your song. She said this is YOUR song for 90 seconds. You sing it however you want to sing it. I don’t think she meant for that to apply just to Chandelier. I think she was telling me to take that forward for the rest of my life. Even if I might be doing a cover song at some point, don’t sing from the same head as the person who performed it and made it popular. Pick something from it. Find a lyric in it. My favorite lyric from the Parson James song that I sang last week was ‘It’s enough of a fight just staying alive anyways.’ I told Parson that. I said ‘Man, that’s my favorite line in the song. ‘ He said, ‘Really? That’s crazy!’ You just find a line that pulls you, pulls on your heartstrings and you go with it.
Why was it important to Trent to work so hard? I am fully aware that I have a God given ability. I didn’t want to coast off of that. I didn’t want to coast for the remainder of the season after my first audition aired. I didn’t want to coast off of a pretty voice. I think if I had, I would have been able to make it pretty deep in the competition, but I knew that if I pushed myself and I worked really really really really hard, I could be better than just a pretty voice. I practice interviews, I practice wardrobe, I practice how to hold the microphone. I didn’t take for granted having the ability to sing. I practiced every different angle I could to be good. To be good, to be better, then to be the best.
How has his love for God and his family played a role in his singing? The only two jobs to be tougher than making it through American Idol boot camp–which is what I have aptly named it after the show’s been over–would be a preacher and/or a soldier. Those would be the only two jobs that I would consider to be harder than what we just completed. I happen to believe in God. I had a really simple prayer. Especially when I had mono–because I was pretty quarantined from the rest of the cast. I would say, ‘it’s just me and you! Just me and you God.’ I kinda kept that on my brain at all times, when I didn’t have anybody else. I didn’t have my parents out here with me. It was just me. I feel like if you can make it through this competition without believing in something? I wouldn’t say I’m impressed, I would say I’m kinda scared. I don’t know what you are. You’re superhuman. I couldn’t have done it without him, that’s for sure.
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