In 2016, more than 13 million viewers tuned in as Mississippi native Trent Harmon was crowned as the Season 15 winner of American Idol, beating out hundreds of other contestants.
However, though he had just been crowned the new American Idol, complete with a recording contract with BMLG’s Dot Records and the release of the singles “Falling” and “There’s A Girl,” Harmon (and his fans) would have a long wait for a full-fledged album, as Harmon wrestled with obstacles both personally and professionally.
The Dot imprint folded, and Core Media Group filed for a Chapter 11 restructure.
“For the past two years, the fans have been thinking that any day now, I’m going to put a record out,” Harmon tells MusicRow. “Quite honestly, I didn’t know when the album would happen. I just kept writing and trying to make the best songs I could.”
Harmon put the time of uncertainty over the past two years to good use, setting an ambitious goal of writing one new song every day for a year.
“I learned I could write and every once, in a while write a good song. It’s a muscle, just like every athlete needs to exercise a muscle to strengthen it. I got to where I could write songs faster. You gain confidence from consistence.”
On Friday (May 18), Harmon saw the release of his full-length album, You Got ‘Em All, after he joined BMLG’s Big Machine Records imprint.
Showing up, taking the risk, and putting in the work day after day might not always guarantee success in the fickle music industry, but so far the ethic has proven profitable for Harmon, whether he was auditioning for Idol, or showing up in the writing room in the wake of a painful romantic breakup.
Days before a scheduled writing session at Word Entertainment with Justin Ebach and Jordan Minton, Harmon received the news that his girlfriend Kathleen Couch was moving to Thailand to pursue her dream of teaching.
“I was tempted to cancel the write, and I had never canceled a write before. As a new artist in town, you can’t afford to go around canceling writing sessions. If you could phone one it in one time, that would be the day, but I went anyway. Once we sat there for a second, it all just came pouring out, and the song was done in 45 minutes. We didn’t try to write a happy song that day.”
Showing up and working through the tumultuous time via song resulted in his latest single, the arresting ballad “You Got ‘Em All.” Once in the studio to record “You Got ‘Em All,” BMLG’s Scott Borchetta, who served as a mentor to Harmon during the Idol competition, continued to champion and guide Harmon.
“We only did two passes of the song, top to bottom. I’ve never done that in the studio. Usually that’s one of the perks of being able to record, doing a line at a time and being able to get each line just right. With his song, Scott said, ‘What if we take it top to bottom and see what we get?’ The first take was good; it wasn’t great. Then he said, ‘Now take five minutes and I want you to go back to that place where you were when you wrote that song, right after she left. Sing that vocal the way you sang it on that tape that day.’ The next take we did, that was the take we sent to radio.”
By Harmon’s own admission, some of the most personal yet universally affecting songs are written from places of pain, not joy. The majority of the songs on You Got ‘Em All are vehicles of inspiration, determination, and above all, triumph–perfect emotional foils for Harmon’s powerful voice.
“First Five Minutes,” which Harmon penned with Paul DiGiovanni and Adam Hambrick, explores the rush of a new love, while “On Paper” captures the determination to follow that love through, disregarding any naysayers.
The centerpiece of that theme is “Hold On,” one of the few tracks on the 11-song album Harmon didn’t have a hand in writing. Penned by Chris Stapleton and Jim Beavers, the song hinges on the lyric When it feels like hope is gone/the remedy is you and me gotta hold on.
“I got Chris’ work tape at some point while we were filing through songs. I listened to it and the hook of the song was just so applicable to right now, and to any time. It’s like a ‘Lean On Me’ type of lyric. And Chris is not a bad co-writer to have on an album,” he quipped.
While American Idol introduced Harmon’s voice and music to music audiences, and earned him a major label recording contract, the talent competition also prepared him for another breakthrough moment, when Harmon introduced his new single “You Got ‘Em All” before thousands of country music programmers during Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar. Harmon planned to perform a piano-vocal rendition of the song, when technical issues with the piano threatened to derail his performance.
“I remember thinking I have one job today—to nail this song. There was a lot of temptation in that moment to do the song on guitar or do another song.” Instead, Harmon stuck to his guns, and waited until the technical issues were resolved. “I thought, everyone has put too much effort into this for this song not to be delivered so I stayed calm.
“There is nothing more nerve-wracking than someone counting down backward from 60. If nothing else, it prepared me for that one moment.”
Harmon’s commanding performance more than held the attention of the radio programmers, silencing the room as he poured his pain into the power ballad and earning a standing ovation.
Today, Harmon is seeing the fruits of his perseverance. In addition to release of his debut album, Harmon recently returned to the stage of American Idol to discuss his debut album and to give advice to the finalists (including the season 16 winner Maddie Poppe). His relationship with Couch has also returned to more stable ground.
“We are in a great place,” he says. “I don’t know what will happen with us, I don’t think anybody does. We talk quite often. I do anticipate her going back overseas soon. Maybe at some point, we are together down the road, if we were meant to be, and I sure hope we do. I love her to death, and right now we are two young people who are not holding each other back from what we want to do.
“It has been a pretty interesting past two years, but it’s a great place to develop as an artist. I’m somebody who likes to fulfill all my promises and I said an album will come out, and finally it’s happening.”
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