We had the wonderful opportunity to speak with American Idol season 12 runner-up Kree Harrison on the phone in a press conference call, and the now-Idol-alum, whose birthday is today, is as sweet as one might expect.

There was a lot of discussion on the “
Idol family,” giving hugs, and “freaking loving” people. When asked how she is able to stay so positive despite the tragedy in her life, she said that being happy is a choice. She went on to say of her success on Idol, “This is the sweet after the bitter I’ve had in my life.”

The talented country/bluesy artist might not have won, but she did get one heck of a birthday present. She found out last night that she’ll be performing on the Grand Ole Opry, a longtime dream of hers.
Keith Urban must have seen the writing on the wall, as he predicted this would happen early on in the season. Kree called it “the best birthday present of my life,” and said she cried when she found out about the invitation.

Kree shed a little light on why she parted ways with Lyric Street Records as a child rather than pursue that opportunity. While she was only 10 years old and admits she didn’t really know what kind of artist she wanted to be then, she did know she didn’t want to be part of the “bubblegum pop country” that was happening at the time. She did say it was all amicable, though, and the label gave her some great advice.

As for what has truly helped her grow as an artist, Kree credits American Idol. The Nashville resident said the Idol journey has taught her who she is and she can tell it’s coming out in her music. As she put it, “It’s made me even more of an artist.” She also credits the show with helping her take down the walls she had put up that were keeping her from connecting with her songs. In fact, she said she understood why Keith was so critical of her about that, as it’s always been an issue for her. As she said, “It’s the hardest thing to do,” but she feels like she accomplished it on the show.

As for coming in second, Kree is taking it all in stride. While she admits they were all “in it to win it,” to borrow a Dawg-ism, she’s not worried about her career. As she said, now that she has a following, she can look to the future, which involves songwriting and releasing her debut album. Kree has nothing but love for “Candi,” as she calls her, and said, “I’m so freakin’ proud of her.” She goes on to call them “apples and oranges” as performers and said of the outcome, “It was a win/win situation for both of us.”

Kree is certainly gonna get by with a little help from her friends (sound familiar?), as she cannot wait to get back to Nashville and hug her bestie and country superstar Kacey Musgraves. She called them sisters and said, “I’m so proud of her and she’s so proud of me.” As for that whole joke about matching tattoos with Kellie Pickler, she said that whole thing got blown way out of proportion. She did say, however, she talks to her all the time, hopes she wins Dancing With the Stars (she even said she and the Idol girls vote for her!), and she looks forward to collaborating with her. Now that would be interesting!

The future certainly holds great things for Kree, and she said she almost can’t believe she has a single out already on iTunes. The next step will be working on her album, which she said she wouldn’t define because she didn’t want to get boxed in, but did admit she thinks of herself as more “traditional country”. “I just want to be worldly,” she said, picking up on a comment judge Nicki Minaj had about her mid-season. As Kree said, she can’t wait to sit down with songwriters around Nashville and share the result with the world. “It’s what we live for,” the gorgeous singer gushed.

When asked about advice for future contestants, now that we’ve confirmed there will, indeed, be a season 13, Kree said that first and foremost you need to pace yourself. “You have to know who you are as an artist that’s what will make you stand out,” she said. That’s exactly what propelled her to the American Idol finale, and we know we’ll be seeing a lot more of this girl.

Credit: FOX Photo: Watch Kree Harrison Sing “Up to The Mountain” on American Idol Finale Part 1