Exclusive: Why Golden Buzzer Winners Chapel Hart Initially Said No to ‘America’s Got Talent’

The energy and joy displayed by Chapel Hart onstage on night seven of season 17 of America’s Got Talent was so infectious that even though all the Golden Buzzers for the season had already been awarded, judges Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, and Sofia Vergara with host Terry Crews all came together to award them a group Golden Buzzer.

The Nashville-based country trio, consisting of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and cousin Trea Swindle, performed an original song “You Can Have Him Jolene,” which was an answer to Dolly Parton’s 1974 hit “Jolene,” and not only did the judges and the audience love it, so did Dolly, who tweeted them.

“When we saw that Tweet come through from Dolly, it meant the absolute world to us,” Devynn told Parade.com in this exclusive interview. “People asked a lot of times after we performed, they said, ‘Has Dolly reached out to you all? Has she done anything more than the Tweet?’ We were just like, ‘You know what? The Tweet is more than enough. She knows us, she knows the song, that was amazing.’”

Another amazing thing that has happened is that Chapel Hart has been invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, and there aren’t very many bigger honors than that in country music.

“It’s the most gigantic step that one can take in the country music world,” agreed Danica, who said that they will be making their debut on September 17, alongside Jeannie Seely, who’ll be celebrating her fifth-year anniversary as an Opry member.

“We’re so excited, we’re probably going to cry, and they’re going to have to give us another date so that we can actually come back and sing without crying,” Devynn said, laughing.

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What makes the Opry date even more special is that Chapel Hart admittedly has been struggling to get a foothold in country music because, as Danica put it, “Country music doesn’t look like us,” and she goes on to explain that country music has had a formula for 100 years, which they don’t fit.

“It’s not necessarily because we’re Black; there’s white artists who don’t fit the formula and they’ve probably struggled for years and years,” she said. “You watch people like Carly Pearce say, ‘I’ve been in Nashville for almost 15 and a half years,’ and she’s just now getting her break. But, also, maybe she didn’t fit in that formula. I think that that’s the biggest thing.”

Danica also points out that it’s also more difficult for them as a trio than it would be for a solo artist.

“I think we have it a little harder because in Nashville when you say, ‘I’ve got a trio,’ it’s, ‘Nope, can’t do groups, they’re going to break up.’ Then you say, 'It’s a girl trio,’ ‘Oh, no, girls got too many issues.’ Then you say they’re Black and there’s never been any Black trios in country music, so we have a lot of no checkmarks beside us, but we just keep trudging forward.”

And as Trea points out, country music is the music they grew up listening to and to which they relate more than the R&B, soul, or gospel that people might expect them to sing.

“We listened to a lot of different kinds of music growing up, but I have to say 99.9 percent of it was country music, especially growing up in Poplarville, Mississippi,” she said. “It didn’t matter if you go to the grocery store or anywhere else, that’s what you hear all around. Then on the other side of it, I feel that country music is the kind of music that just resonates more honestly with us because the songs about kids playing barefoot down the back roads, that’s how we grew up. We can identify with those songs as opposed to the ones about all the fancy stuff.”

Related: Find Out Who Went Home on America’s Got Talent and Who Made the Finale!

Also during our conversation, Danica, Devynn, and Trea talked about how they first turned down the opportunity to audition for AGT, and what changed their minds, their plan to win the competition, and more.

What made you decide to audition for America’s Got Talent in the first place? It’s a show that always has a lot of singers, but not a lot of country singers.

Danica: Right. This is one of our favorite questions because we almost didn’t audition. So, there was a scout, her name is Lindsay Rush. Lindsay reached out and said, “You ladies should definitely audition for America’s Got Talent.” At the time, we were already touring so we were like, “Thank you but no thank you, we’re already touring, we’ve got stuff going on.” Lindsay was so persistent. She was like, “I’ve heard the music, I’ve seen the videos. You all have to.” She was like, “Please, please, please,” so we were like, “OK, we’ll audition.”

Initially, we were nervous, but I think the biggest reason when we finally all sat down and talked it through is, just like anybody at the end of your career, at the end of your life, at the end of your journey, you want to look back and say that you did everything that you wanted to do, everything that you could do, and that you did the things that you were afraid to do. I think that’s what America’s Got Talent was to us. Then in a way it turned into something that we had to do.

When you auditioned, were you aware that all the Golden Buzzers had already been given out? Was it an even bigger shock to you that you got the group Golden Buzzer?

Trea: Yes, we were absolutely flabbergasted. First, I think there might have been a moment that we had completely forgotten about the Golden Buzzer concept as a whole. Then throughout the audition process, we knew a couple of other acts were saying, “We got the Golden Buzzer, we got the Golden Buzzer.” Then when Simon said that he didn’t have any left, we didn’t think that it was possible. We were honestly just hoping for four yesses. There was that moment where you can see on all our faces that we were so confused because they didn’t say no, but they still hadn’t said exactly yes. When we saw everyone’s hands go down [to hit the Golden Buzzer], it was like we hit the floor.

You can’t tell me what you’re singing tonight, but how can you top an original song like “You Can Have Him Jolene”? Do you have a strategy to make it to the finale? Will you do another original? Will you sing a cover song?

Danica: You are correct. We cannot say what we’re doing. But we can give you a little bit of an exclusive. Our goal is to keep doing original music. Once our audition aired, everyone kept saying, “We want more. We want to hear more Chapel Hart. Oh my gosh, where can I get your album?” Everybody kept saying they wanted more Chapel Hart. We’ve never known anybody to win AGT singing original music all the way through, so that’s going to be—I guess you can call it a strategy if you want, but I think more than anything, it’s our way of betting on ourselves. That’s our plan.

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When you sit down to write, do all three of you do it together? Or does somebody get an idea and the others help out? How does that process work?

Trea: I have to say that our process is there is no process. We try to pull inspiration from everywhere. Sometimes we’ll come together collectively and write, sometimes we’ll write individually, and then come and workshop it together. So, there’s not really a specific method to it, it’s all in service to the song, whichever works out the best.

What are the plans for the $1 million prize if you win?

Danica: Maybe this is a three-person answer question. We’re pretty sure as to the first thing that we’re going to buy, we’re going to get all matching four wheelers.

Devynn: I haven’t really thought about it too much other than helping. Along with the four wheelers, we also want to be able to start helping different music programs at schools and giving back, bringing back the music programs where we can and doing what we can to help the youth that’s coming up after us.

Trea: I think the only other thing that we’d really want to do is to be able to keep traveling farther and farther and just keep spreading our message of love through music.

Related: Listen to the Country Crooner Howie and Simon Predict Will 'Win It All' on America's Got Talent

What are you going to do with the four wheelers?

Danica and Devynn: We’re going mud riding everywhere. We may go back to Poplarville because we’ve got a key to the city so I don’t know how much trouble we can get into, but we can drive them all over town if we feel like. We don’t know for sure, but we feel like maybe.

You have previously released music and you were inducted into the 2021 Next Women of Country. What is the goal long-term with all these things? The next step is to win America’s Got Talent, but what is the next step after that?

Trea: After we hopefully win America’s Got Talent, I think contractually the next step would be to have our Las Vegas residency. But following that, I think that we can all agree that we’ve been like boots to the ground and just trying to reach as many people as possible. But now that we have this platform and the growing fan base around the world, and all the love that we’ve received from people digitally and in person, as well, we just want to be able to reciprocate all that love back out to as many people as possible, as up close and personally as possible, as well. I’d say more touring, more traveling and more music.

Danica: We hope to be opening for all of our favorite country music superstars, the likes of Carrie Underwood, maybe Zac Brown, maybe Shania Twain, The Chicks, and Little Big Town. We’ve got so many people we want to open for.

Trea: We love us some Little Big Town. And The Chicks and Big & Rich. The list just goes on and on. A lot of artists when they break out, it’s kind of like all about me. But, honestly, we want to make all of our new friends in the country industry and be able to tour and perform with them, as well.

So, with three of you in the group, how do you decide what you’re going to sing? Is it two out of three? Or does it have to be unanimous?

Danica: I guess if it has to get down to a rock, paper, scissors, we can rock, paper, scissors. But generally, what happens is once we talk about it and talk through it, we usually all three come to a gut feeling. It just all comes together, and we go, “You know what? Yeah, you’re right.” So, we haven’t had to come down to a rock, paper, scissors yet.

America’s Got Talent airs Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

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