Former Lexington resident and current American Idol contestant, Sierra Harris, 19, has been hitting the high notes for most of her life, according to her mother, Lynne. “She could hit those soprano notes…she could just naturally hear a song and be able to sing along beautifully,” her mother says. And heads would turn.
“We all always sang and danced and that was always a big part of us,” Lynne said recently about her family – six girls, including Sierra, ages 12 to 26, and her husband. “Music has always been a part of us. But when [Sierra] started to show an interest in really performing in public, like doing the national anthem, and [participating] in an acapella group at Lexington High School… I think we realized how naturally she could sing notes that a lot of people can’t reach.”
Her natural talent, along with a strong work ethic and pure love of performance, has taken the former Lexington High student and ice hockey player to an on-air contender for this season’s American Idol top prize. Her audition, in front of well-known music stars Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan, is set to air this Sunday, March 26 at 8 p.m. on ABC. Starting as the “sample child “ in her mother’s music and movement classes as a toddler, to bit parts in Christmas productions at the age of five or six, through starring roles as a middle schooler in Maine summer theater, high school singing groups, and emerging rock bands, she has arrived at the national stage.
Sierra credits her 17 years in Lexington as an important starting point in her path to prime-time television, gushing as she describes her memories. “I loved growing up in Lexington,” she crows. “The music scene is very, very good…There’s all the acapella groups. There was honors choir that always traveled and did competitions and stuff like that. I loved every single part of that. And when it came to sports, I got to sing the national anthem for a lot of sporting events, including my own.”
Her mother confirms the enthusiasm her daughter brought to her craft. “She just loved it so much and it brought her such joy,” Lynne says. “To get up in front of hundreds of people and sing the national anthem and just sing the joy. She wasn’t nervous. I guess that’s when I realized she may do something with it.”
Sierra’s first role of real significance happened completely by chance in 2013 when she was 10. She had been performing for years, along with her sisters, in summer talent shows in Point Sebago, Maine, where her parents had a seasonal home. During the shows, Sierra befriended a local girl who because of her residential status qualified for the more professional productions that the community staged each year. That summer’s performance was Annie. Her friend had gotten one of the many orphan roles and Sierra pined to do the same.
“They said no to her at first,” Lynne explains. “They said it’s too far, you’d have to be up here during the week, and we were like, oh no, we couldn’t drive five hours round trip for rehearsals.” The door seemed to close.
But days later, Lynne got a call from one of the show’s producers who remembered Sierra from the talent shows. Would she be interested in playing an orphan? Absolutely. But there was more to come. Within a few weeks, when Sierra was off on her year-end fifth grade trip, the phone rang again. The girl selected to be Annie got stage fright. “She refused to go on,” Lynne explains. There was just a week to go before opening night with an expected attendance of 300 every week throughout the summer. “So, they said, do you think she’d do it? She’d have one week to learn the role,” Lynne recalls, including all the songs and all the lines. Sierra leapt at the chance. “In one week, she learned the entire role of Annie,” her mom says with obvious pride.
For Sierra, there was no turning back. “I was like, this is the best day of my life,” she recalls gleefully, even years later. Was she nervous about the size of the audience each night? “When it came to the stage, it was like I felt more at home than even in my own home,” she says. “The bright lights and everything just kind of felt like I was glowing all the time. I just lived freely on the stage.”
For the next seven or eight summers, Sierra continued to perform in every summer theater production in Point Sebago, often with her sisters, and a few times with her mom and then her dad. During rehearsal period, Lynne primarily played chauffeur, logging five-hour round trips, three to four days a week for two months, shuttling her rising stars to Maine and back to Lexington. Her husband pitched in when he could. “I think of them all as mini family road trips,” Lynne says fondly. “We’d have our snacks packed and our fun things to do in the car and our cooler. And we would just go.”
By 2018, Sierra decided to take a shot at a bigger stage. Accompanied by her mother and her grandmother – “my mom is my travel buddy,” Sierra says, “one of my heroes” – she trekked to Boston to try out for American Idol. “We stood in line for five hours,” she remembers, near Boston Common with thousands of other wanna-be’s. “They were outdoor auditions which is super cool. It was so crazy. I think that day they said 12 people out of over 5,000 got chosen.” Always the optimist, Sierra recalls only the good parts of the experience despite the long wait and her second-round turndown. “I met incredible people waiting there. It’s crazy how many people you get to experience and meet that live so close to you and you would never even know.”
So, she stayed at it, trying again in 2019, 2020 (by Zoom due to COVID), and 2021 (ditto), until the most recent attempt in 2022. “I did Boston, Washington and the rest online once it became COVID years. I got discovered a few times for it through my social media singing videos. I got discovered this past year [by a casting agent] and they finally said I could have the opportunity to go on the show.”
For her audition song, Sierra chose one of her favorites from her band’s (Clockwork) set list. She is not at liberty to disclose the name of it – one of several things that American Idol swears her to secrecy about – but she does describe it as a “gotcha” tune. Given her repertoire and range, it’s likely to feature more than a few belted high notes. As to her outfit, it’s skintight and shiny black, the same one she wore for an earlier round. Producers encouraged her to wear it again.
The filming took place in Nashville, another road trip for Sierra and her mom. “I said I wasn’t nervous to my family, putting on a fearless, brave face, but I was a little nervous. I mean, it’s like your dream kind of comes true, you know what I mean? You walk into this bright room, and I couldn’t help but to smile. My cheeks were hurting after,” she laughs. “I probably didn’t blink for like five minutes when I was in there. I was almost starstruck by the experience of just finally having this moment once in a lifetime chance,” she says before adding, “I’m happy for the most part.”
Her mother, Lynne, wasn’t quite so composed. “I held it together for her and the minute she went into the audition, I hysterically sobbed. They said, why are you crying? And I said, because I’m so excited for her and so proud of her. And she wants this so bad that I hope that the judges can recognize the passion that she has for entertaining and singing.”
Sierra cannot disclose much more in the way of details about her performance, the process, or the outcome. In the meantime, she continues to shoot and post her TikTok videos, rehearse and play with her band Clockwork, work as a personal trainer, and consider the next step in what is just the beginning of hopefully a long and fruitful career. “She’s always used her singing to bring joy to others,” Lynne says about her daughter. “I hope she can do more.”