'American Idol' Finalist C.J. Harris on Pitch Problems, Tour Duets, Advice From Adam Lambert
"I never knew that I sang sharp," said the eliminated Season 13 contestant on a conference call Friday.
Just two years ago, C.J. Harris was so strapped for cash, attending the American Idol summer tour was something he just couldn't afford.
"I was just barely trying to get by," said the 23-year old Alabama native. "I was doing everything I could to make it in the music industry, and then American Idol came along and changed my life."
This summer, Harris is going to have the best seat in the house -- onstage.
"I don't even know what to expect right now," he told reporters on a conference call Friday afternoon. "It is going to be so much fun."
Next week, Harris will visit New York City for the first time, and he said he is thrilled to get out on the road and see the country on the summer tour, where he is hoping to pair up with fellow Alabama country boy, Dexter Roberts.
"I would love to do a duet with Dexter," he said. "We already have this great bond as friends, and we want to play together."
Harris and Roberts have a connection that goes back way before the show, having met one sunny day on the beach.
"I just remember Dexter walked up to me and I'm just sitting there on the beach playing some acoustic and Dexter was like, 'Hey, man, do you want to play a song together?'" he said. "It was something about him I really just liked him as a person, and we started playing there and when we went back home, and [then] figured out we were about 30 minutes from each other. We played some places back at home and became really good friends."
Roberts said he learned a lot about himself on his Idol journey. One issue he didn't know he had, was that he had pitch problems vocally.
"It was something before the show that I never knew that I sang sharp," he said. "I'm from a very small town and playing for these people, it's a 'you love me' situation, and I never got a straightforward answer until I got in front of some professional artists.
"I am glad they told me because it was something I never heard," he said. "I am self-taught with everything. I have to work on it ... I don't know the keys and notes like I should."
When asked if he regretted his choices of "American Woman" by The Guess Who and "Whatever It Is," by Zac Brown Band, his feelings were mixed.
"I thought [American Woman] would be a great song for my voice, but I had a hard time remembering all the lyrics and getting up there and singing without thinking too much," he said. "Zac Brown -- it's a great song with a great medley and a great feel to it, but the key was too low. It didn't have the cry or the emotion in it like I wanted to and I feel like I could have done better."
Finishing in sixth place "is still incredible," and he learned plenty from the mentors he worked with, particularly Adam Lambert, who warned the kids off of social media for their own sanity.
"Adam said don't look on YouTube and don't look on the comments because a lot of people go in to see what people think and you can get some very hurtful things," he said. "That was really good advice. Focus on what you are doing and keep your eyes on the prize."
He said that season five winner Taylor Hicks also had kind words when he visited. "He said he knew how stressful it could be, and he was proud of how [Roberts and Jess Meuse] represented Alabama so well," he said.
And if he were mentoring future contestants, Harris has succinct advice.
"I would tell them to always stick to who you are, and to prepare a lot of songs, not just one genre," he said. "I would say don't bring all your good songs in at the beginning. Save some until you make it farther in the competition."
As for his own future, Harris is eyeing a move to Nashville, as he said he already has an album's worth of material ready for recording, which he promises will be a "mix between country blues, soul and southern rock."