Q&A: Kree Harrison on Being 'American Idol' Season 12 Runner-Up

'This is the sweet after the bitter that I’ve had in my life'

Kree Harrison
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
Kree Harrison
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After facing off against Candice Glover in the finale, Kree Harrison fell short of being crowned the Season 12 American Idol champ. Still, the title of runner-up certainly isn’t anything to scoff at. The 23-year-old Texan, known for her country roots and pleasant personality, effortlessly sang songs by Patty Griffin, Rascal Flatts and Aretha Franklin, among others. She also tugged on America’s heartstrings with the story of how both her parents died in tragic accidents when she was just a teen.

During a conference call Friday afternoon, which also happened to be her birthday, Rolling Stone heard her thoughts on coming in second, getting matching tattoos with Kellie Pickler and how she maintains an upbeat attitude. 

Kree Harrison and Candice Glover Vie for the 'Idol' Crown

What was going through your head right before the winner was announced?
What was going through my head is what I was saying out loud. Candice and I were telling each other how proud we were of each other, and I said, "If you make it, if you win, you better sing your butt off." She was laughing at me. We were both rooting for each other.

Were you shocked when you got voted into the finals instead of third-placer Angie Miller?
I was. If you can’t tell, I’m not a very good actress – what you see is what you get. I think it was the moment of reality. When Ryan Seacrest called my name, I could not believe I was gonna be able to perform another week. You feel at that very moment, "Wow, all of you voted for me to hear me sing another week." So, yeah, I was definitely shocked.

Going into the results, did you feel like you had an equal shot at winning?
I never knew what was going to happen. It’s always been in America’s hands. The truth is, me and Candice are completely different. It’s apples and oranges. I had no idea what was going to happen. Either way, it was a win-win situation for both of us. At the end of the day, it’s not about winning the title. I’ve created a following, which is what each of us came to do. I’m so proud of Candy and she’s so proud of me, and we’re living our dreams right now, whether or not I have that title. Actually, I have a title, I’m runner-up, and I’m over the moon about it. 

Why did you choose to go first after the coin toss?
Everybody’s asking me that! [Laughs.] At that moment, I was just like, "I don’t care if I go first or second, it’s just the two of us." I asked Candice and she said wanted to go second, so I said fine, I don’t care. I was just so happy to be able to perform again.

While Keith Urban was clearly a fan of yours, he also came down hard on you sometimes, especially about connecting with your songs.  Why do you think that is?
I respect all four judges, especially Keith because we’re both country singers. Whenever he gave me critiques, I took it as constructive criticism because, at the end of the day, you can’t really grow if you’re not listening and learning from your peers. I always took it to heart. And I agreed with him. I had a problem at the beginning letting the wall down and being able to connect emotionally, because it is a hard thing to do, to open up. Through this process, it’s really happened, and I’m happy that it happened that way.

What allows you to stay so upbeat despite the tragedy you’ve faced in your life?
At the end of the day, it’s a choice, you can choose to live your life happy and take whatever happens with a grain of salt. For me, this is the sweet after the bitter that I’ve had in my life, and I like to share that and make people feel the same way.

What surprised you most during your time on Idol?
How much work goes into the show. Not just us, everybody. There are so many hard-working people behind the scenes, I had no idea.

On your album, do you think you’ll lean more toward traditional country or pop country?
I’d hate to put myself in a box right now. I only put out a single just today, but I’d love to be on country radio – whether it’s with pop or traditional. Personally I like more traditional artists. I just want to be worldly and not just one thing, but it’ll definitely be country-based, and always will be.

You’ve mentioned that you and Kellie Pickler are going to get matching tattoos, is that true?
That’s just a joke that’s gone wrong! [Laughs.] I talk to her all the time, and I hope she wins Dancing With the Stars. I’m rooting for her. Me, Angie and Janelle [Arthur] have voted for her. She’s such an amazing woman and friend and I hope we collaborate.

What’s your advice for people trying out for the next season of Idol?
Pace yourself, first of all. More than anything, though, you have to know who you are as an artist, because I feel like that’s what will make you stand out.