National Anthem time for "Idol" winner: Stay calm and sing pretty


Each summer, two of the classiest TV events are the PBS concerts on Memorial Day eve and on the 4th of July. Now the former will be Sunday, ranging from country (Trace Adkins) to classical (Renee Fleming). This story is one of two I'm sending to papers, previewingSunday's concert. Coming up is a Beach Boys story; here's one on Trent Harmon, the 15th and final "American Idol" champion.

By Mike Hughes

Im0agine you're
Trent Harmon, the final “American Idol” champion.

You're 25, from
small-town Mississippi, just starting your national career. On Sunday
– to launch a PBS Memorial Day eve concert that ranges from the
Beach Boys to classical stars -- you'll be singing the National
Anthem in front of a mega-crowd.

Yes, this should be
nerve-wracking – except Harmon's been in tight spots before. There
was the “Idol” gauntlet, including a week when he was isolated
with mononucleosis. “I thought I was pretty tough,” he said, “but
that was something.” And there were times:

-- Singing the
Anthem at baseball games ... moments before he had to step to the
mound as pitcher.

-- Starring in a
children's-theater production of “Joseph and the Technicolor
Dreamcoat,” before 6,000 or 7,000 people. “For a 14-year-old,”
he said, “that's 600,000 or 700,000.”

-- And the one time
he didn't think he would make it through the song.

That was at the
funeral of a friend. He and Harmon had planned and ordered a
custom-made guitar; on the day it arrived, Harmon learned his friend
had died, an apparent suicide.

At the funeral,
Harmon gave a talk and said he would try to do “Amazing Grace,”
but wasn't sure he could; he asked a few friends to try to sing
along. “The entire congregation stood up and sang,” he recalled.
“Tthere must have been 700 or 800 people. It was a beautiful
thing.”

That song (“Amazing
Grace”) has been in his head for two decades now; his mother taught
it to him when he was 5. He did lots of musicals, but there were
distractions:

-- Baseball. He was
a high school pitcher, the same as 2011 “Idol” winner Scotty
McCreery. (“He's definitely a better golfer than I am,” Harmon
said.) Harmon did land a non-scholarship spot on the University of
Arkansas – Monticello baseball team, but soon decided music was his
future.

-- The family
businesses. Harmon worked at the farm/ranch and was a waiter at the
restaurant. “Even now, when I'm out with people, I'm refilling
their drinks.”

Still, the music
persisted. In college, he was in a worship band and discovered he
could break into a falsetto, just like the early Michael Jackson
record he used to hear at his grandmother's house. In 2014, he tried
out for “The Voice” and failed; no chairs turned around; his
tryout never aired.

That was his fault,
Harmon said. He had chosen a song (Nick Jonas' “Jealous”) that
had only been out for a week and judges weren't familiar with. The
experience “really helped prepare me for 'Idol.'”

This time, he didn't
tell his parents he was trying out. He slipped off for auditions and
more, flying back home and doing some restaurant shifts between
rounds “so they wouldn't think I was up to no good.”

That helped him
focus, he said. When they learned he was on the show, he asked them
not to go there. “That surprises some people, but I ask them, 'Did
you bring your mom and dad to work with you?'”

Eventually, “Idol”
brought them there anyway. They saw their son become its final
champion.

With no concert
tour, he's been able to focus on his upcoming album; Harmon talks of
country music with a “blue-eyed soul” feel and has been
co-writing with Nashville pros.

First, there's his
Anthem duty. He's already done a couple times recently, at the
Richmond International Speedway (before a NASCAR race) and in Las
Vegas (before the Manny Pacquaio/Tim Bradley fight). Jordin Sparks,
the 2007 “Idol” champion, advised him to sing in a relaxed,
unforced way ... and to remember the words.

“That's what we
should do all the time,” Harmon said. “Just sing pretty and
remember the words.”

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert”

-- 8 p.m. Sunday
(Memorial Day eve), repeating at 9:30, PBS (check local listings).

-- Music by Beach
Boys, Trace Adkins,Katharine McPhee, classical stars Renee Fleming
and Alfie Boe and the National Orchestra. Gary Sinise and Joe
Mantegna host; Trent Harmon sings National Anthem.