Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon brought Katy Perry to tears last night.
The Towson University vocal performance major, who lives in Catonsville, has made quite the impression on American Idol with a run of stellar performances. He’s tackled emotionally heavy belters that his falsetto is more than suited for, including his latest performance, a rendition of Elton John’s “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” that made Perry burst with pride. Harmon, 26, has been extremely open in telling his story on a national stage: As a preacher’s kid in a tight-knit, religious family, he came out to his parents last November. He’s acknowledged his struggles of the last several months—his parents have yet to come to a performance, but should he continue to advance, they have plans to attend.
Harmon, one of two Idol connections to Baltimore this season—Dimitrius Graham is also still in the running—wowed the judges in his first audition with an original song. Lionel Richie to compare him to Billy Joel.
Harmon frequents Catonsville's Atwater’s and Farmhouse Greens—he’s currently a music director at Babcock Presbyterian Church, and does counseling work at BACHS Health Care. He’s lived a lot of life in a short span—a whirlwind of television fame and personal and emotional growth. On the eve of a results show that will determine if he makes Idol’s Top 10, Baltimore spoke with the singer-songwriter about his journey thus far.
What’s your relationship with Baltimore like?
I’ve moved around a lot throughout my life, but Baltimore’s kind of been the place that [my family has] gone back to a lot. I’ve lived in Baltimore this time around for a little over two years. I was working on my music degree at Towson University up until [Idol] and I’m taking a semester off now, but I’m still working on graduating hopefully this year.
What do you like most about Towson and the area?
One of the things I like about Towson and the school of music in particular, it’s small like a conservatory but it doesn’t feel competitive and cutthroat like you would expect from a top-notch conservatory. It’s a very welcoming environment. I feel like I have extended family there. It was just a really positive experience for me. Especially as a transfer student. I still keep in touch with the faculty. I’m actually living with my academic advisor right now, renting out a room there.
Going from an environment like Towson to a competition like American Idol where the purpose is to eliminate performers and crown a winner has to be a bit of a shift.
That’s one of the things that I appreciate about the music program at Towson. It’s not super competitive, even though we are challenging each other to be our best musicians. I think I would say the same about American Idol. It doesn’t feel like we’re against each other. It feels like we’re there for each other and rooting for each other. We’re all getting close at this point and we’ve had a lot of time to bond and hang out. It’s kind of a family environment.
You said in a recent interview that as an artist, you feel you have a responsibility to communicate your experience through music. What did you mean by that?
I think any artist has an opportunity to portray their emotional experiences and their relationships through their art in different ways. At the end of the day, we’re all human and we go through some of the same experiences, but we all have different ways of communicating that. As an artist, I feel a responsibility to maintain a certain level of transparency about my experience because I know that, for me personally, I used to listen to other artists to help me contextualize my own experiences. You become kind of like this voice for other people through your art, and it’s a way of connecting.
Do you think that this process has provided a lens for [your parents] to see where you’re coming from that might not otherwise have been there?
I can’t answer that in full confidence. I’m hesitant to speak on anyone else’s behalf. But what I would say is that I hope whatever I’ve done so far on the show has just shown not only my parents but everyone else that I’m just a human being and struggling through my emotional experiences as imperfectly as anyone else. And I’m trying to do that on this platform and succeed musically, and I hope that at the end of the day, they can see that and understand that I love them and this is just me owning my story. I think I’ve done that to the best of my ability.
You have been very transparent throughout this whole process. As you’ve continued to do so, has it emboldened you further?
One thing that I’ve experienced is that when I open up to people and kind of say, “This is who I am and I’m proud of it,” then people respond in a similar way. You treat other people with respect and kindness, then you’ll get that back. If you’re open and vulnerable with people, I’ve discovered that people tend to be the same way with you. The support that I’ve received has been really amazing. People have reached out to me and shared their stories. It’s just a further confirmation that nobody’s alone in their experiences.
Is there a story in your mind that sticks out?
I’ve heard from a bunch of people that say they also grew up in a conservative environment, and to see someone going through that process of coming out and all the struggles that can come with that, a lot of people have said, “Oh, I feel less alone,” or [that they have] more power to share [their] story with people. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Your music or your artistry is just a vehicle to connect to people, and I think that’s been the most amazing part of this experience to me. You kind of get the sense that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.
It seems like your song choices are very deliberate, like when you dedicated “Landslide” to your parents. Is that something you’re doing consciously?
All the songs that I’ve covered so far have been songs that I think have spoken to me personally. That’s kind of my goal with each performance is to bring the most feeling and the most that I can to the stage and to give that to other people. I’ve been fortunate enough to have those songs available to me—we have a list to choose from certain rounds. I think what I try to do is reflect on what the song means to me personally and apply that to whatever my circumstances look like at the time, whether it be about a relationship in my life or an emotional experience that I’m going through. And once I’ve connected to the song in that way, that’s the energy that’s going to send it out that people are getting.
What’s the moment just before you’re about to open your mouth and sing like?
That’s a really interesting moment, because up until you sing, you’re thinking about everything that’s happening around you. But then once you start the music, at least for me, that’s all that there is.
Has the thought of winning crossed your mind yet? How do you control the voice in your head that says you can win while also staying in the moment?
I think the closer that I get to the finale, that thought comes up more often. I just try to say that I know that I can win this, I think that I have as good of a shot as anybody. At the same time, this is just the beginning of my journey, no matter how American Idol ends for me. I think I’ve embarked upon something that transcends any reality show or music competition.
What lesson have you learned from this experience so far?
I’ve never done self-promotion at this level. However, I am an independent artist, and I’ve been doing my music for several years now. And I think I’m just learning how to take it to the next level. At the end of the day, I sort of realized that it’s not totally about me. I represent what people believe in and I’m kind of this symbol for people, and I’m just pushing for an ideal.