He’s a fan and judge favorite on American Idol, drawing local and national support — but before his rise to television fame, Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, a Towson University student and Catonsville resident, got his start singing in the church.
“I’ve always done music ... as a way to connect with people,” said Harmon, 26. “Music is so that in church, you know? I think that’s ingrained in a lot of my musicality.”
Harmon’s audience has increased — he’s about to appear in the top six on American Idol. He’s outlasted two other contestants from the Baltimore area — Emma Kleinberg of Bel Air made it to the show’s top 40 contestants, and Dimitrius Graham, a graduate of Morgan State University and a Windsor Mill resident, made it to the top 10.
Before appearing on American Idol, Harmon was working at Babcock Presbyterian Church in Towson and worked at Baltimore Area Community Health Servicesas a counselor. Harmon is studying vocal performance at Towson University, though he’s taken a break from his studies for the competition.
Harmon said he loves music — he could write, sing and perform “all day.” But he’s had to learn to “pace himself energetically.”
“There’s so much more to this that involves being a reality television show character that I’ve had to learn,” Harmon said. “Being on TV, it’s weird.”
He said he’s had to adjust to doing interviews, sitting in meetings about the upcoming episode, practicing camera blocking and more each week before the show — and that’s in addition to an estimated 20 hours per week of just musical rehearsal.
Those close to Harmon have said they’re glad for his success on the show.
“It’s very difficult to make a life in music, so it’s great to see him have this opportunity,” said Leneida Crawford, a professor at Towson University and Harmon’s academic adviser. “It’s just great to see somebody blossom and be able to do what they want to do with their lives.”
Crawford said Harmon has had to put his class schedule on pause, but that she — and other faculty at Towson — really want him to graduate.
“She [Crawford] wants me to finish my degree. She knows what my goals are in life. She’s pretty much taken me under her wing,” Harmon said.
‘I never questioned their love’
From the moment he appeared on screen, Harmon has been open about his life and experience coming out as gay to his parents and family.
He said he was nervous about having the conversation, which happened about three and a half years ago. He knew it would be “a big hurdle,” because of his parents’ conservative Christian beliefs about marriage and homosexuality.
“When you reveal this crucial part of who you are, and it comes across as a surprise. ... it’s scary to be that open,” Harmon said. “But I never questioned their love for me. … I always knew they would be there for me.”
Jeremiah’s parents — Jerry Harmon, senior pastor at Grace Bible Baptist Church in Catonsville, and Carolyn Harmon, who leads the choir there — said they “do disagree with [Jeremiah’s] lifestyle choice” but continue to “love him unconditionally.”
“This thing has not torn us apart as a family. If anything, it’s drawn us closer together as we’ve wrestled with these things,” Jerry Harmon said.
The family also rejected the narrative that has developed — partially on American Idol, partially in media reports — that Jerry and Carolyn Harmon have been absent from the show intentionally.
Jeremiah’s parents were in California for the filming of last week’s episode, when the contestants sang songs from Queen’s discography. And Carolyn Harmon said she had already been asked by show producers to come back to film for Mother’s Day.
“We’re going to try to do this as much as possible,” Jerry Harmon said. “[But you] have to realize that they do this on Sundays, and a pastor’s busiest day is on a Sunday.”
Carolyn Harmon said the church has been incredibly supportive of Jeremiah, and said the community rallying around the family has been “an incredible blessing.”
“They’ve watched him grow up,” Carolyn Harmon said. “He is theirs, and they love him, and they are praying for him. They are supporting him.”
Harmon’s next performance on Idol will be Sunday night, when the show airs at 8 p.m. on ABC. Whether he’s eliminated this week, or continues into the competition, Jeremiah said he’ll be back in the area “for a little bit no matter what.”
He said going to Nashville to launch his music career is his plan.
“But it’s hard to say. But I want to come back to Baltimore,” Harmon said. “There’s, at least, you know, to get my stuff.”