Last week Dan and I made a 10-hour trek to Tupelo, MS, for Elvis Fest after a stop in Memphis, including a visit to Graceland. But the primary reason for our trip south was to witness Trent Harmon’s first concert after winning Season 15 of American Idol this spring.
Why drive so far for a concert? Watching Trent sing his way to winning American Idol made me a fan. But beyond his talent, I love his country-rooted story. During the TV show camera crews took us to Amory, MS, where Trent grew up. We were introduced to Trent’s down-to-earth farm family, including sister Randi Kathryn and parents Randy and Cindy Harmon, who also operate a restaurant on their farm. The Harmons’ Amory was brimming with Americana folksiness and I knew someday I’d like to visit if I got the chance.
Last Saturday morning, it happened. We drove about 30 minutes from Tupelo to Amory where we poked around a bit in town (see below) and then headed to the Longhorn Fish & Steakhouse, the Harmon family restaurant located a few miles out of Amory.
After curving past farm fields, several woodsy areas, an obsolete dairy barn and some pretty brick ranch homes, we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. A few minutes later Trent’s dad, Randy, arrived to greet us with two family dogs in tow.
I’d assumed Randy was the quiet type from his TV appearances. Not true. He’s friendly, chatty and fast with a quip. “Are you trying to break into my restaurant?” he joked as he hopped out of his car.
Next, Trent’s mom, Cindy, arrived with Charlie Kate, her daughter’s Toy Schnauzer that appeared with the family on the Idol stage. Cindy, who had agreed to meet me for a short interview, is even prettier in person than on TV, offering a huge smile and outstretched hands to say hello.
“Let’s walk and talk,” she said leading me into the casual restaurant where cattle horns, western art, and pictures of Trent and his sister line the walls. The restaurant was closed at the time; it is open only for dinner Thursday through Saturday.
Cindy moves quickly, gliding through the dining room, straightening up items as she heads to fill a travel cup with ice and tea. She is planning to go to Vicksburg later that day to watch Randi Kathryn, Miss Mississippi State University, make an appearance at a beauty pageant.
As Cindy and I chatted, my husband, Dan, and Randy became fast friends. They talked about farming and tractors, rental properties, the restaurant and what it was like for a Hollywood crew to show up to film the place. Randy even showed Dan a beloved cowboy print that hangs in the restaurant symbolizing a difference between light and darkness based on faith.
A producer Randy met in Hollywood has approached him about doing a TV show about flipping houses in Mississippi. “Maybe if it were Franklin, TN, I’d be more interested,” Randy mused. He and Cindy plan to head to Tennessee later in the summer to help Trent get settled into a permanent home. He is currently in Nashville working on an album with Big Machine Records, and about to head out on a radio tour.
Cindy and I talked about Trent’s lucky break with American Idol. “He just needed the right opportunity,” she said. Trent, now 25, performed in high school musicals and was a worship leader during college in Arkansas. “He had a band here in Amory, too.”
Cindy’s favorite song her son sang on Idol was Parson James’ Waiting Game. But she says she saw Trent mature as a performer when he sang Stand By Me. “There was something different with that song, about how he looked and moved and he worked the cameras,” she said.
But her hope is that people will appreciate her son’s musical talent more than his star qualities. “A lot of people that are stars can’t really sing,” she said. “Unfortunately, people often listen with their eyes.”
Cindy recognized Trent’s singing talent early, recalling a day when he was about three years old. A frequent church soloist herself, Cindy noticed Trent singing along to the car radio. She pulled over to urge him to try to sing harmony and melody parts of the song and discovered he could sing exactly as she instructed. “That was the a-ha moment,” she said.
As Trent’s success on Idol gathered steam, Randy and Cindy were instrumental in helping their son gain support back home. “We sold 7,000 t-shirts,” said Randy. They also organized getting banners placed around town and ordered a $15K stage complete with a giant screen for Trent’s homecoming concert at the Amory high school. “We sold VIP meet and greets to help offset the cost,” Randy explained.
The night of the American Idol finale, Amory happened to be hosting its annual Railroad Festival. To make sure those attending the festivities didn’t miss the crowning moment if their hometown boy won, organizers brought in a giant screen and aired the announcement. Watch below to see a fantastic video shot by Matt Hannon and Tweeted by the town.
Seeing Trent at his first big concert in Tupelo was a thrill for the Harmon family. “When I saw him on that stage, I thought, ‘Oh my, that’s my baby up there in front of all these people!'” said Cindy. “But when he got done we sat down and talked like we always do. He doesn’t get a big head.”
Back home, life at Randy and Cindy’s restaurant has been “crazy-busy” in the wake of their son’s new celebrity status. About 1,000 people came a few weeks after American Idol ended when Trent was there to sign autographs. “People from across the country and even other countries have been here,” said Cindy.
But there are some challenges that weigh on her such as not being able to answer every fan request. “I want a personal friendship with everyone, but you just can’t keep up,” she said.
Before our visit at the Longhorn, we stopped off at Southern Crossing Outfitters where you can buy Trent Harmon tee shirts and other fabulous items (Dan bought two shirts and a Tilley hat and I nabbed a Sip Hip tee plus a bracelet for our daughter.). Owner Lorie Crenshaw has known Trent for most of his life, watching him sing around town and even appearing alongside him in a church play. Lorie recalled a day earlier this spring when Trent posted a message on social media that he was about to visit the store. “I was with his mother at the restaurant getting items ready for another appearance. We looked at one another and said, ‘we better get over there,'” Lorie remembers. Trent’s spur of the moment appearance drew 200 people within 45 minutes, forming a line that spilled two doors down.
Dan and I also visited Simply Southern antique collectible shop downtown. Owner Cellia Plummer doesn’t know Trent or his family but is an enthusiastic supporter. “He has a lot of Elvis Presley qualities and he may be a legend himself someday,” she said. “He can do any kind of music.”
We capped off our time in Amory with lunch at Bill’s Hamburgers where Dan enjoyed his burger “with” onions and mustard and I had mine “without.” We loved the homemade potato chips, too! When you sit down at the counter at Bill’s, you feel like you are stepping back in time.
Earlier as we were leaving the Longhorn and contemplating the long drive back to Iowa, Randy Harmon warned us, “You are going to think it was crazy to bother to come here.” Nope, we had a blast visiting the hometown of the last American Idol.
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