Triston Harper Talks Johnny Cash, Elvis Influences and How His Grandparents Helped Pave the Way for ‘American Idol’ Stardom

Triston Harper has a voice far beyond his 15 years. Almost instantly, viewers hailed the Alabama native as “the new Garth Brooks.” The member of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians has dazzled with his own unique spin on beloved country tracks like Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” and “Cover Me Up” by Jason Isbell. As he heads into the top 20, Triston recently spoke about his deep connection to country music.

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‘American Idol’ Fan Favorite Talks Elvis, Johnny Cash

The talented teenager has his elders to thank for his success thus far on American Idol. Triston recalls his granddaddy calling him into his living room when he was about 10. The older man had something he wanted Triston to hear.

[RELATED: ‘American Idol’: 15-Year-Old Phenom Triston Harper Dazzles With Cover of Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up”]

“And I said, ‘All right,’ and he put on a Johnny Cash song, ‘I Was There When It Happened,’ one of the first songs that Johnny Cash ever recorded,” Triston said.

He was hooked — not only on Cash’s vocals, but his storytelling abilities. “And I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,'” Triston recalled. “‘I want to be able to sing and tell the story at the same time.’”

That was just the influence of his mother’s side. A little later, Triston’s granny introduced him to the King while the teen was visiting her in Arkansas. Thanks to “a man by the name of Elvis Presley,” the aspiring musician learned how to win over a crowd. And that is exactly what Triston has done so far on season 22 of American Idol.

“So it made me want to be able to tell a story and sing, but also get the crowd a little rowdied up at the same time,” he said of hearing Elvis for the first time.

Jelly Roll Is Among Triston Harper’s Fans

Triston has been open this season about his rocky childhood. The Native American teen had to leave his hometown at age 12 to escape an abusive stepfather. The lowest point, he said, came when he was homeless and sleeping on the side of the road with his mother.

It makes sense, then, that Triston would look up to another musician with an impressive set of pipes and a difficult past. “Jelly Roll, that’s who I dream to be. Coming from that nobody to that somebody,” Triston said. “He’s really my role model.”

The singing sensation was starstruck when the “Son of a Sinner” artist showed up on season 22 as a mentor. And once Jelly Roll had heard Triston sing, the feeling was mutual.

“You have a swagger that at 15 years old that you don’t even know you have,” the GRAMMY nominee said. “You can win this competition young man, you can win this competition.”

Featured image via Instagram

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