In the Spotlight: Chapel Hart

After a dazzling performance on America’s Got Talent last month, the Mississippi trio Chapel Hart is just getting started

Photo: Rudy Melancon

Trea Swindle, Danica Hart, and Devynn Hart.

It takes a lot to impress a reality television judge, but the Poplarville, Mississippi trio Chapel Hart recently proved that even Simon Cowell hasn’t seen it all. On July 19, the group handed “America’s Got Talent” a golden television moment when their audition inspired the four celebrity judges—Cowell, Heidi Klum, Sofía Vergara, and Howie Mandel—to join hands on the “golden buzzer,” a rare accolade that guarantees the group a spot in the live shows that begin August 2 on NBC. 

Performing the original song “You Can Have Him, Jolene,” a response to Dolly Parton’s classic lament “Jolene,” sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin Trea Swindle brought the audience to their feet as they delivered their kiss-off to Jolene and the man whose heart she stole. They not only won over the judges, but they also earned praise from Parton herself, who tweeted about their performance the following morning as the rest of the country lit up social media. The band skyrocketed to the top of the iTunes country chart and have been invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry this fall.

We caught up with the Mississippi trio on Zoom from their hotel in Idaho on a short run of dates before getting back to the business of competing on reality TV.

Originally, you didn’t even intend to perform “You Can Have Him, Jolene” on the show. What happened behind the scenes?

Devynn: “When we initially went in, we were going to do ‘9 to 5’ by Dolly Parton, but you had to have a backup song. So, we had been rehearsing ‘9 to 5’ the whole time, but at the very last minute [the producers] were like, ‘Let’s just hear your backup song.’ And when they heard it, they were like, ‘Nope, that’s it. That’s the one we’re doing.’ We had to completely change gears the day of [taping].”

Danica: “Literally moments before we were getting on stage, we just decided we were gonna do an original. Like, we’re about to show our art and heart to the world, to open it up for judgment. Maybe they say, ‘This is the stupidest song I’ve ever heard in my life,’ you know? So, it was definitely nerve wracking. It was exciting. There were so many emotions tied into the moment before we walked out on stage.”

What went through your minds when the judges had their side discussion to determine your fate?

Trea: “You can definitely see from the video that we were all absolutely confused. They didn’t say no, but they still hadn’t said yes. Then they huddled up, and to make it even worse, Terry [Crews, host] ran from backstage to the front and we had no clue what was going on. I think we had forgotten that the golden buzzer was even a thing, let alone a group golden buzzer. And Simon had said earlier that they’d already given away all of their golden buzzers.”

Danica: “When people ask if that reaction was real, I’m like: ‘You can’t fake that.’ Even the confusion before they pressed the button, you can’t fake that. It was literally a thousand emotions in probably less than ten seconds.” [laughs]

You’re scheduled to perform at Dollywood in October. Given what has happened in the past two weeks, will the audience see Chapel Hart duet with Dolly?
Trea: “We hope so, but we just hope that somebody tells us about it beforehand so we don’t pass out and cry in front of our friends.” [laughter]