‘American Idol’ winner Trent Harmon mourns friend – USA TODAY

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‘American Idol’ winner Trent Harmon reveals he did not expect to win but had been preparing for it while runner up, La’Porsha Renae claims she is not angry at losing at all.

The text came to my phone Thursday night, a few seconds after Trent Harmon was named the 15th and final winner of American Idol.

It read: “Wooooo hoooo!! I am so proud of Trent. You must have heard me yelling all the way from Amory.”

It was from Veronica Knox, the mother of Harmon’s close friend he talked about in a moving clip during the March 17 Idol broadcast.

The segment began with Harmon, 25, opening a guitar case near a barn on his family’s farm in Amory. The song Another Story by The Head and The Heart served as background music.

“This right here is my favorite guitar,” he said. “It’s my favorite guitar because my best friend, Daniel, and I had it built together. Daniel was a lot better than me at guitar, especially electric. So I let him pick out the wood grain. I let him pick out the pickups. Even the neck of the guitar.

“I called him the night before, and I said, ‘Hey, bruh. We’re going to have the guitar in the morning. It’s on a truck, and it’s on the way here.’

“Unfortunately, Daniel never got to play that guitar. That next morning, after it was delivered, I got word that he had passed away.

“Even though I kept playing, it really didn’t have any meaning behind it. I didn’t want to play this guitar. It was hard for me to even look at it. It just sat in a corner for a long time. It was just kind of a bad memory, something that was supposed to be a good memory.

“But I thought, ‘Daniel wouldn’t be just looking at this guitar, he’d be playing it.’ It kind of lit a fire under me to go see what could happen. I packed up my stuff, and I packed up this guitar and I was ready to pursue whatever dream was gonna take off.”

Cameras showed Harmon placing the guitar in the passenger seat of his pickup and driving away.

“It’s sort of as if he lives in the strings on my guitar,” he said. “And whether I want to or not, every time I step on stage — even if it’s just for a second — I think about him.”

Since the broadcast that night, I wondered about the rest of that story. I made a note of the inscription shown on the back of the guitar so I wouldn’t forget his last name: In Memory of Daniel “Dangerous Dan” Knox, 1/13/91-9/21/10.

I vowed if Harmon was one of the show’s final three contestants, I would pursue it. I did so.

I was able to contact Daniel’s brother, Wayne, who was exceptionally nice. We talked for a while. I asked if his mom or dad might be willing to speak with me. A few minutes later, he called back and gave me his parents’ cell numbers.

Wayne directed me to his Facebook page. “If you’ll scroll down, I wrote something on there after Daniel died that might answer a lot of questions for you,” he said.

And so I did.

The entry was dated Nov. 21, 2010.

It began: “As I post this, it is two months to the day since Daniel committed suicide. I know that many of you — like me — were left with a lot of questions insofar as what happened and why my brother decided to end his life, and I know how much the answers to those questions can help with providing some closure.

“Daniel suffered from major depression. Depression runs in our family — I’ve battled it, and many members of our family continue to battle it. Because Daniel had not admitted (either to himself or to anyone in our family) that he suffered from depression, we naively assumed that he had not inherited it.”

He explained that Daniel’s decision to end his life “was not a case of sudden impulse triggered by a single event … Daniel had been researching methods of suicide in the months leading up to his death, as evidenced by the internet search history on his computer … Primarily, he was looking for a method that would cause him little or no physical pain and that would leave minimal mess … he ended up settling on a well-tried method that he knew would be virtually painless; he would’ve blacked out in roughly 5 to 7 seconds.”

He closed: “Suicide isn’t glorious or romantic. It’s a very self-centered act … When Daniel put that noose around his neck, he wasn’t just hanging himself. He put that noose around my neck. He put that noose around the neck of my mother, my father, my grandmothers, my grandfather, my sisters, my cousins, my aunts and my uncles. He put that noose around the necks of his friends, his teachers, and all the younger kids who looked up to him.

“Daniel killed a little bit of all of us because he could not find the courage to ask for help.”

Before the segment was videotaped, Harmon’s mother, Cindy, phoned Veronica Knox.

“She told me what Trent wanted to do but if it would hurt me and make me cry, he would find something else,” Veronica said. “I told her, ‘Oh, it’s going to make me cry. But it’ll be a happy cry.’ It meant a lot to (husband) Larry and me that Trent wanted to do this for Daniel.

“You know, it’s going on six years now. Sometimes we wonder how much people still think about Daniel.”

They watched from their home in Amory the night it aired. “We knew about the guitar, but we’d never seen it,” she said. “When Trent said he thought about Daniel every time he stepped on stage … that got to me. But what squeezed the breath out of me was when he placed that guitar in the passenger seat of his truck …  Symbollically, he was taking Daniel to ‘Idol’ with him. That’s when Larry and me … well, that’s when we lost it.”

Daniel was home-schooled through the eighth grade, but he and Trent became fast friends once he entered public school. Both loved music. Both played the guitar. Soon, they were inseparable.

“They played a lot of music together,” Veronica said, “but they also enjoyed being silly and stupid. They loved getting the video camera and making goofy videos. In fact, I’ve still got a bunch of them and I’ve thought when Trent becomes famous, I’m going to make him pay me a lot of dollars for those videos.”

She laughed.

“Daniel loved playing the guitar so much. He would get up and practice before going to school every morning. My dad played. It skipped me. I can barely play the radio. But Daniel was good on guitar, and Wayne plays a good keyboard. Wayne used to play with Trent, too.

“Remember that (instrumental) song (by Mason Williams) Classical Gas? That was mine and Daniel’s song. I told him to listen to it one night. He wore his fingers out learning it, but he didn’t stop until he could play every note of it.”

After graduating from Amory High School, Harmon attended the University of Arkansas-Monticello, where he studied music.

Daniel went to Mississippi State, majored in electrical engineering and was a member of the Air Force ROTC program. After graduation, as a commissioned officer, he hoped to join the explosive ordinance division.

“Ever since he was little, he loved loud things,” Veronica says. “He loved fireworks and (pyrotechnics), and I think that’s why he wanted to work with bombs in the Air Force. I even told him that I believed he would be good at it.”

All the plans and dreams ended in a Starkville apartment when Daniel was four months shy of his 20th birthday.

Harmon sang “Amazing Grace” at the funeral.

“But he didn’t sing immediately after he got up,” Wayne recalled. “He talked for a little bit. He told me later that he had to talk because he wasn’t sure his voice would come out if he tried to sing right then.”

Veronica called Harmon’s musical tribute to her son “really comforting.”

“But the most comforting thing I heard at that funeral was something Trent said. He said one night when he and Daniel were talking, he asked Daniel if he was a Christian. He told Trent, ‘Yeah, man, I became a Christian when I was 10 years old.’

“That gives a mama a lot to hold onto, knowing I will see him again one day.”

She paused and gathered herself.

“If you don’t put anything else in the article, please put this,” she requested. “Depression is a tricky thing. Everybody says that Daniel would have been the last person on earth they thought would commit suicide. He was so outgoing, we didn’t think he had any problem with depression. My therapist says that he was probably in denial, and by the time he was planning his suicide, he was in too much pain to get help. He just wanted out.

“I encourage everybody … talk to your kids. Even if they seem fine, ask them, ‘Are you fine? Really? Have you ever thought of hurting yourself?’ And you’ll be able to tell. They might hesitate or they might just tell you. If you suspect something, don’t try to handle it yourself. Get them professional help.”

Veronica wasn’t surprised when host Ryan Seacrest called Harmon’s name as the winner. For weeks, it seemed as if McComb’s La’Porsha Renea was destined to win.

“I don’t think anybody in Amory was surprised,” she said. “I’ve always thought that Trent could do big things in music if he could just ever get the chance. He’s been singing like that for years up here.”

Veronica and Larry missed Trent’s homecoming parade and concert on March 26. They had already planned a trip to Waco, Texas, to visit their eldest daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. Veronica plans to write Harmon a letter, congratulating him and thanking him for the tribute to Daniel.

“The kids who hung out with Daniel have a hard time saying anything to us about him. It’s awkward for them, and I understand that,” she said. “But Trent would always find me after church and give me a big hug. I always appreciated that.”

I asked what Daniel would have been saying Thursday night about Trent winning the title.

“He would’ve been in the audience out in Hollywood,” she said, “and he would’ve been cheering louder than anybody. He would’ve been so proud of his friend.”

Contact Billy Watkins at (769) 257-3079 or bwatkins@jackson.gannett.com. Follow @BillyWatkins 11 on Twitter.

‘American Idol’ winner Trent Harmon mourns friend – USA TODAY

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