Harrison first moved to Nashville to pursue a music career when she was just 10 years old.
“My whole family uprooted from a small town in Texas,” Harrison tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I was trying to figure it out in Nashville. I had never sang in a studio before or been part of the Nashville community. It took my breath away, how much I felt at home in a big city.”
Harrison’s father passed away just a year later and the family returned to Texas. She lost her record deal, but says it was the best thing for her at the time.
The tenacious singer moved back to Nashville not long after, ready to take on the world of country music.
“I moved back when I was 13, because I had something to say now,” Harrison says. “I’m gonna start writing songs. And I did, and I got introduced into the writing community and made friends for life and learned a lot. Fast forward through ups and downs of deals on the table and taken off and management.”
Just a few years later, Harrison’s mom passed away.
“I’d been in the town and doing the thing for like a hot minute and then I lost my mom,” she says. “Both my parents are deceased, but I had awesome parents for most of my life. I would much rather have that than s—ty parents for my whole life.”
After a brief return to Texas, Harrison came back to Nashville and began working in a bar before her sister convinced her to try out for American Idol. Though she was initially against it, Harrison soon realized Idol had a lot to offer.
“I literally have never worked so hard in my life,” Harrison says. “Idol taught me a work ethic like no other will.”
Harrison spent the next two years after Idol diving into the making of her upcoming album This Old Thing, the cover of which she’s debuting with PEOPLE exclusively. She co-wrote nine of the 13 tracks, including a deeply personal track written for her late mother.
“I’ve always wanted to record it,” Harrison says. “It’s special to me and I think that it’s good to put stuff out there, even if it’s uncomfortable at times, because people can relate, and it feels good to be selfless with artistry.”
Despite her Texas roots, Harrison is now a Nashville girl through-and-through.
“My dad and mom listened to things from Otis Redding to old classic country,” Harrison says. “I’m thankful that they showed me that from the get-go. But moving here, one of my best friends, John Osborne [of Brothers Osborne] showed me Darrell Scott. I would’ve probably never known artists like that if it weren’t for the Nashville community. My music has definitely been inspired 100 percent by Nashville and the people here.”
Harrison’s live studio album This Old Thing is available for pre-order Friday on iTunes. The release date is scheduled for July 8.