When musician and performer Jimmie Herrod takes the stage in Los Angeles for the finale of “America’s Got Talent” on Sept. 14, there will be a lot of people cheering him on about 1,000 miles to the north.
“I have so much support from everyone in Seattle and the whole upper Northwest,” says the 30-year-old Tacoma native and graduate of Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts. “I’ve had people I haven’t seen in so many years reaching out to me. It means so much to me.”
Herrod, a member of the Portland-based jazz and traditional pop band Pink Martini and current resident of the City of Roses, is one of two Pacific Northwest locals still in the running. The other is psychic comedian Peter Antoniou of Seattle, whose semifinal appearance airs Tuesday; he’ll find out Wednesday if he makes it to the finals.
Herrod spoke to us about the part this area played in his career, how he dealt with judge Simon Cowell’s very brief doubts about his song selection, and the importance of songs about hope, especially now. (This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Congratulations! How are you feeling going into the finale?
This week was such a shock for all involved, a really big week. The cuts get bigger and bigger. It’s amazing to be a part of such a huge opportunity, but stressful, too. We’re like a little family. It’s like, “Don’t go! I don’t want to go either! But don’t you go!” [Laughs.]
In your first audition, judge Simon Cowell told you that your prepared song, “Tomorrow” from “Annie,” was his least favorite and suggested you sing something else. You didn’t have anything else, so you sang it anyway. How do you navigate that moment?
Any time there’s a show, there’s a song that someone hears that they do not like. And that moment has now been repeated on national television. [Laughs.] So I was like, ‘I’m gonna go with that.’ Fortunately it went well. It was a song I had been performing for almost three years. It’s hard to imagine anything else I could perform that I could [feel] so much in my body.
You’ve said that you chose “Tomorrow” in part because it’s about hope. You started doing it even before the pandemic. Is it more important now?
I’ve always loved sad love songs — they’re my bread and butter. But this has been such a good opportunity to sing something with some positivity, and to share a message of optimism. Singing with Pink Martini has always been a reason to share hope … And now it feels extremely poignant.
How did Tacoma, and Cornish, help shape who you are as a musician?
I remember in high school, my mom suggested, “What if you use your desire and skill to play music?” I started playing at retirement homes. That was my first gigging that I did, all across Tacoma!
When I went to Cornish, on this amazing Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship [now The Gates Scholarship], I basically locked myself in the practice room until they kicked us out at 11:49 p.m. I got to be part of an artistic community. The school is so intimate. Everyone knows everyone. I was really fortunate to be part of such a thriving community. I made some really good friends in the theater department and I just saw four of them in L.A.! They came to my performance last week for “AGT.” It’s always special.