Winning The Adoption Jackpot: An Interview with Chart-topping Singer & Adoptee, JT Harding

Jt harding adoption story

With more than 100,000 kids in the United States waiting for their forever families, it’s months like National Adoption Month that are necessary to spark the conversation around adoption.

And it’s why chart-topping country music singer and songwriter, JT Harding, who has worked with powerhouses like Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton and Keith Urban to name a few, is on a mission to share the beautiful stories that come from adopting.

Harding, who is the author of the book “Party Like A Rockstar: The Crazy, Coincidental, Hard-Luck, and Harmonious Life of a Songwriter,” was adopted as an infant and says he “won the jackpot.” This month, he is teaming up with fellow adoptee Nicole Koury to share what adoption means to both of them and sharing their story through song.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Harding and Koury to learn more about their adoption stories and the power behind the process.

JT, let’s start with you. You were adopted as an infant. Sometimes being an adoptee can be a really rough road, but you’ve said that it has given you incredible optimism. Tell us a little about your upbringing and the difference it’s made, especially once you got out on your own, especially in light of National Adoption Month.

JT: If being born is like a big Powerball game in the sky, when the ping-pong balls lined up my birth date 3-16-1975 I won the biggest jackpot of all time. I was adopted by Larry and Kendra Harding, my parents.

They loved me, they gave me a secure home and they encouraged me to always be myself.

My parents were sports fanatics. Our doorbell chime was the Michigan State University fight song. My brothers were great at football but I loved music. When I put shoulder pads on they were covered in tinfoil spikes my mom helped me make to look like the band KISS for Halloween. When the lakes froze over in Michigan I gripped a hockey stick and used it as an air guitar as I lip synced to the radio while my friends skated. My dad traded his highly coveted 50 yard line seats for concert tickets so I could see my rock n’ roll heroes in action.

My dad said “you can do whatever you want to do in life, just do it your best”.

When I set out on my own I leaned on that advice. Would I have become a hit songwriter without that upbringing? I don’t know maybe, but I also might have led a life searching for a family like some people haunt 7-Eleven’s scratching lotto tickets with a quarter, praying for a winner.

Nicole: I am so proud that things like National Adoption Month and EXIST because it is such a large part of my story and is so important to who I am today - sites and recognitions like these help people talk about adoption, learn more, and become more open to the possibility!

Adoption changed my family's life. I have never (ever) felt othered, separated, or felt like an extraneous accessory around my family (immediate or extended). I’ve never been introduced as “my adopted cousin,” or “my adopted niece.” That is just not our jam. It might be for others, and that’s ok! But for us, this is what it is: family is family, period. I have been showered with so much love from these people. My WHOLE entire family (immediate and extended) were rooting for my parents to bring home a little baby and make their family finally complete. And it started with Mum and Dad: no one would have rooted for them if there wasn’t love there well before I came along! There were like 50 people waiting at the international arrivals gate at Logan airport when I came home!

I know that my story is different because I was adopted from the country of my parents’ ethnic origin: it is a seamless fit, and I know not every adoptee has that experience. Our shared faith, language, culture, food and more helped cultivate our roots during my childhood. What was natural for my parents became natural for me.

Growing up, my bedtime story WAS my adoption story: I heard it every single night! How my parents prayed for me, how badly I was wanted. Well into adulthood I hear constantly how the whole village came together to support my parents during the adoption process, after I came home, and after my Mum got sick. My parents never shy away from sharing any of their trials and tribulations and what makes our family strong: that includes their adoption journey. I think that’s what makes me strong, too.

What has it been like for you both to connect with each other and create a song around your adoption experience?
When I facetimed Nicole to tell her she won the contest her smile lit up the room like a Las Vegas marquee. It was wild to hear Nicole's story about how she was zipped up in a jacket and taken in a boat to get to America. I had a feeling it could be a song lyric. She kept saying “ I can't wait to tell my parents about winning the contest!” It reminded me of myself and shows how strong her connection is with her family. Anything I’ve done in my life that I’ve been excited about I couldn’t wait to call and tell my parents.

Nicole: J.T. is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. He makes anyone who meets him feel right at home and it honestly feels like I’ve known him for years. On that Friday at 2:00 PM when he FaceTimed me to tell me I won the adoption contest, it was so much fun! We clicked instantly, and there was pure joy radiating around the ether - we were excited to meet (I was excited to win) and he was excited to have another person willing to celebrate being adopted and share our stories with whomever wants to listen!

Connecting with J.T. has been a blessing - he is so talented, fun, easy to talk to, and easy to work with - I am so grateful that he wrote his book and created this contest! Songwriting can be difficult but it is so enjoyable and meaningful when you’re able to do it alongside talent like J.T.

Can you tell us about the experience working on a song about adoption and what that means to you both?
When I’m strumming a guitar to write a new song I like to start with a kernel of truth and go from there. Hitting the “start meeting” button on Zoom I thought about the zipped up jacket story and what a great metaphor for being loved that is. “Let's write a song called “Wrap Me Up In Your Arms,” I beamed.

Nicole dove in like a game show contestant trying to solve a Wheel of Fortune puzzle naming all these things that were wrapped up. We landed on presents under a tree, taxi cabs wrapped in yellow. Giving a shout out to her hometown team she added a beer wrapped in a Red Sox koozie. Behind Nicole I could see street lights glowing out her apartment window and I colored up the chorus with “like the night wraps around the stars.”

Nicole: When we were spitballing song ideas during our Zoom songwriting session, you could just feel the excitement and the promise in the room: we weren’t writing “just another country love song.” Rather, I wanted to make sure our new song was so full of love and that that love was versatile enough to be felt between anyone: between partners, between different types of family members, between parents, Dad and kid, or kid and Momma, etc.!

A unique part of my story that J.T. wanted to incorporate into our song is reflective of a little trip I took on my way to first meet Mum and Daddy. The Mother Superior who helped arrange my adoption with her convent/orphanage had to transport me via boat to meet my parents. In lieu of purchasing bulky or expensive baby transportation equipment like a stroller, Mother just zipped me right up into her jacket (I was tiny, ok!?) and we were off. Very cozy, I’d say! And it got the job done. J.T. was enamored by that part of my adoption story and so we decided to make it part of our foundation while writing. The song is really catchy - I know I’m biased but I personally think it’s a chart-topper!

What do you want people to know about adoption?
I imagine it takes a lot of courage to adopt a child. I wonder if people thinking about adopting a child are nervous because they aren’t sure what they’re going to get, maybe they don’t know where the child comes from. I want people to know my mom said from the moment she held me in her arms it never crossed her mind or heart I wasn’t hers. My “little brother” has blonde hair and is as big as Hulk Hogan. I have chocolate brown

hair, I'm slim, average height. As different as we are, I never once felt out of place or that I didn’t belong to the Harding family. That's my view of adoption. It’s terrifying to think I could’ve grown up without a family.

Nicole: Please give adoption a chance. If you have love in your heart, there is a kid out there who is worthy of that love and willing and ready to receive it: regardless of their age, creed, color, or background. The family unit has the potential of doing such beautiful things in this life... and families come in all different shapes and sizes!

Find your adoption resources and utilize them: don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions or the silly ones. Be brave and talk about your adoption journey so others can learn from your story. If you’re thinking of expanding your family, you have extra love to give, or you have room in your heart, adoption might just be for you!

Adoption is an option for everyone: if you are able to love unconditionally, to keep a child safe and be their protector, to invest in them and bring joy into their lives, give it a chance. There are so many other grateful “kids,” like me, living proof your story can have a happy journey.

What would you say to encourage people whose adoption experience has been difficult?
The sad voice of a friend was coming over the opposite end of a phone call to me recently. Her mom was so disappointed that she wanted to look for her biological parents. To anyone going through that I would like to say, a person who isn’t adopted can't understand the curiosity you feel about where you came from. I feel everybody has the right to look for their biological parents to see who they are but also to know your family history and maybe any health issues that might be out there. I met my biological parents and they turned out to be great people but I never looked at them as anything other than new friends. I never looked at them or needed them to be my parents .

The flipside to that is you never know who you’re going to meet out there so keep an open mind and an open heart. Some biological parents don’t want to be found, or if you do meet them it’s not always a fairy tale. I tell people to try to remember they loved you so much they knew they couldn’t take care of you and that’s most likely why they gave to someone that could.

Nicole: I get it. I have friends who have not had an easy adoption journey. First and foremost, I am a fan of asking for help, for engaging in self-care and attending therapy: when you find the right type of therapy and therapist for you. There are many different types of groups that serve as safe spaces where you can be brave and get help, wherever you are in your journey.

My biggest advice is don’t keep your questions, feelings, worries or wonders bottled up inside. There are people and resources who want to help you understand where you came from and why God (or your deity of choice) has a plan for you to be exactly where you are meant to be. Never forget that you’re unique, you are beautiful, you are wanted, and we are glad you’re here!