Chapel Hart—Trea, Danica, Devynn
We first met Chapel Hart in the summer of 2022 when they auditioned for America’s Got Talent performing an original update of Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene,” that they wrote called “You Can Have Him Jolene.”
There were no Golden Buzzers left. Judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara and host Terry Crews had all used their individual Golden Buzzers. So, with the audience chanting “Golden Buzzer, Golden Buzzer,” the decision was made to give a group Golden Buzzer to the Mississippi-raised country act, consisting of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin Trea Swindle.
The impact that Chapel Hart made was so big, it was felt by Dolly, who tweeted, "What a fun new take on my song! Carl's [Parton's husband] birthday is today, so I think I'll hang on to him, and I'm not notifying Jolene that today is his birthday."
They also received support from country stars Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker and Darius Rucker, who has since employed the trio’s harmonies on his single “Ol’ Church.”
But unfortunately, when it came time to take the stage for the America’s Got Talent finale, the family trio ran into vocal issues on their performance of "American Pride,” and ended in tears.
“Some of the vocals were a bit off because of nerves. Forget that,” Simon tried to reassure them. “I really, really like you and I’m really happy that you did what you did tonight. Good for you.”
Chapel Hart didn’t win their season of AGT, they finished in fifth place, so when they were invited back to compete on America’s Got Talent: Fantasy League, they said yes to the opportunity for redemption.
“It was a big decision for us,” Danica tells Parade in this exclusive interview. “A lot of times it feels like when you lose, that’s it. I think that it takes a different level of courage to say, ‘Look, we’re going to come back and fight.’ We were so overcome with emotion on the finals, I guess in the back of our minds that was it. We just felt like, ‘Man, we blew it. We were crying like we blew it and that was it.’ When the chance at redemption is presented to you, that’s a big choice to make. It wasn’t an easy choice, but we were like, ‘You know what? Let’s give it a go, let’s go back and try this again.’”
And Trea adds, “I also think the fact that America voted over the entire history of AGT, and they chose us to come back and give it another go and to represent them. It was confirmation that they’re still rooting for us, they’re still behind us, so we must go.”
Just how they will redeem themselves remains to be seen on tonight’s episode since they aren’t able to reveal their song choice, but Devynn says, “We were very nervous about doing this song.”
And Danica adds, “I’ll give you the biggest hint that I think that we can give you. It was absolutely our chance at redemption. It’s a very powerful message and one that is super important to us and super close to our heart. We’re hoping that people hear it, that people get it, and that they really feel our hearts on this one. We’re excited to deliver it.”
During our Zoom chat, Chapel Hart also discussed what it’s like being back for Fantasy League, the shocking fact that they still do not have a record deal, their plans for 2024 which include touring and a Christmas album, and Danica’s health issue.
AGT: Fantasy League is a bit different than regular AGT. There are teams and the coaches are mentoring. How does it feel different for you?
Devynn: I think the biggest difference is knowing that you have teammates even though you’re still competing against them.
Danica: But also you’re competing to really win for your coach, your mentor.
Devynn: It’s also a little bit more pressure because you’re not just trying to win for yourself.
Danica: It’s a totally different vibe. The level of talent that’s on this show, you’re going to watch it and be like, “I don’t even know how you would judge this.”
Trea: I always felt with AGT being a variety show, it is hard. But I feel like this is the crème de la crème. It’s all of the fan favorites from all of the seasons. So, it’s not just an array of acts, it’s an array of the nation’s favorite acts.
Danica: And sometimes it feels a little bit intimidating to be in competition with a flame thrower or a strength and bodybuilder or people throwing each other in the air on skates, and we’re songwriters. I don’t know how you compete in songwriting with all of that. But the fact that America said, “Look, you girls got it, we voted for you all to go against all of the things.”
So, like I said, that pressure is at an all-time high to pick the right song, to figure out what’s the message that you want to say standing in front of 20 million people. It’s nerve-wracking. To say we’re nervous is a complete understatement. To also say that we’re so excited to just see it and hear it and do it is even more probably an understatement.
I was shocked to read that you still don’t have a record deal. Even so, would you say that AGT did change your life in a positive way? Has it opened up your career somehow?
Trea: I think record deal or not, AGT changed our lives in the sense that it showed us the power of the people. The things that we’ve been able to accomplish since originally appearing on AGT are things that a lot of independent artists wouldn’t be able to do. And it gave us a freedom that a lot of artists who do have a record label don’t have, it showed us the power of the people. From them voting for us on the show at home to them coming out to see us whenever we’re traveling around the country.
Danica: I think the beauty of it was, and right now us watching our audition tape with the band on the bus, we cry every single time, so we don’t get to watch it too much. Every blue moon we’ll pull it out and we’ll watch it. In the moment that the song is over you watch us scan the crowd. We watch the crowd go absolutely crazy over this song that we have been in Nashville for the last year or two where people are like, “It’s good, but…”
Watching the crowd, in that moment, we saw that maybe Nashville didn’t get it or maybe the people who we were trying to say, “Listen to this song and tell me what you think about it,” and they were like, “It’s OK.” But in that AGT moment, 4,000 people just got us. We didn’t have to change anything. They just heard it and absolutely loved it. That’s what AGT did for us. It was validating us in the moment that we’re good enough, that we’re great writers, that this is relatable, that people do get it. We were getting worried that for a second, we were like, “Everyone thinks their baby’s cute, everyone thinks their songs are amazing, but is the baby really cute?” And so, we were struggling.
We say that in interviews sometimes, we were struggling to feel like we were enough or that we were good enough to be in country music as songwriters. So, to stand before those people and to hear the judges say, “We don’t have a Golden Buzzer,” but the audience was like, “Golden Buzzer, do it.”
Trea: Again, the power of the people.
Danica: The power of the people. That is what AGT has been to us and for us. I think it showed back up when they were like, “If we can bring anybody back, bring Chapel Hart back.” It’s a confidence booster but also, it’s a heart warmer that people love us and get us.
You may not have a record label’s support, but you have the support of the performers themselves in country music, like Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, Darius Rucker and Loretta Lynn. That has to mean something special to you.
Devynn: Yes, it’s especially special to us because these are the people who came before us, who did the work so that we could do what we do as country artists today. To have them say, “I see you girls, I see what you’re doing and I see the music that you’re writing and I love it, keep going, keep doing it,” it really does feel special and it’s an honor that we’re being recognized by these greats.
Danica: Also, I think a lot of times, too, when it’s your colleagues and it’s the people who are writing, when it’s your contemporaries, I think sometimes it’s hard to be like, “I’m so great and I’d love to do a song with them.” I think it means so much more from the people who are like, “Listen, I’ve been there, done that, you guys are incredible.”
It was Loretta Lynn being like, “You girls got something so special, don’t you dare give that up.” I tell people all the time that Loretta could have very easily said that but in true auntie fashion she was like, “I like what you did with Dolly’s song but what can you all do to one of mine?” It was a challenge. I feel like it said so much to us that she was like, “Anybody can write one, but I want to see can you write a ‘Welcome to Fist City?’” I think that means the most to us because it feels good to have Jelly Roll go, “Man, you girls are amazing, I love your song.”
Trea: I think maybe the fact that Loretta challenged us, that’s another level of confidence all in itself. Sometimes somebody will try to put another spin on an artist’s song or try to do a redo and it’s OK. But the fact that she was confident in our ability to do the same thing or even better with something of hers … I can’t even think of the word.
Danica: It’s one thing to just kind of do it. But also the fact that she passed away before she could hear the song, I think there’s something so beautiful about the way that her fan base showed up. They showed up and were like. “Loretta would have loved this, you all nailed it, you knocked it out of the park.” It was like very much her spirit was there and it felt like her being like, “Good job ladies.”
One thing about it, the fans are the most honest people that you will come across. It gave us a boost of confidence and an honor and pride to be a part of the country music community, but also, to know that even in death, Loretta still wrapped her arms around us and was like, “You got it, girls, you got this.”
What’s going to be next for you? Are you touring? Putting out your own music, obviously.
Trea: Of course, we’re going to be on the road. Any time we get a chance to go out and put some faces to the names and hug all the fans and the people, we’re going to be doing that. But 2024 is going to be such a year. First of all, we are going to be releasing the long-awaited Christmas album. You probably don’t know but Danica will listen to Jingle Bells in March for no reason just on a Thursday.
Danica: I’m already itching and it’s just January. Everybody’s always like, “Before you all bow out of this industry, you’ve got to do a Christmas album and you’ve got to do a gospel album.” And so, we’re going to tackle the Christmas album first. We’re so excited about that. We’re going to be taking off some time in a couple of months to go and write. We’ll maybe find a cabin in the woods somewhere and dig into our inner closets and really start writing for this Christmas album.
But also, too, we are everywhere. My poor grandma. She stopped trying to keep track. She would be like, “So y’all are in North Carolina?” “We were there two days ago, granny.” She just started, “Tell me where you’re at, and I’m going to pray that you’re safe.” We’re everywhere but we’ll also be writing this year.
Trea: We’ll be writing, we’ll be traveling. We’re going to be in Europe a couple of times this year. We’re going to try to break some records this year. We’re going to push 2024 to the limit.
Danica, you had surgery. They said it was on your vocal cords. Are you OK?
Danica: I had surgery a year ago, a year and a half ago. The doctor told me, he said, “Danica, if you can be disciplined and you can be strict and give me two weeks without talking, I can get you out of the woods, I can get you all right.” I was quiet for two weeks and I’ve been making up for them weeks ever since.
Devynn: I was really hoping I could get a solid month of silence and when she told me it was two weeks, I was very upset.
Trea: We were looking forward to the two weeks, but I think maybe our fans just prayed a little too hard.
Danica: I went back a week and one day post-op and the doctor looked at my vocal cords and he was like, “Oh, my God. I’ve never seen this. This is beautiful.” He was like, “You’re healing perfectly.” And so, a little bit past one and a half weeks out, he started letting me talk a little bit.
Devynn: She ain’t stopped since.
Danica: The cat came out of the bag and been scratching ever since.
America’s Got Talent: Fantasy League airs Monday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC and next day on Peacock.