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PHOTO BY HARPER GRACE; COURTESY OF RACHEL INGLESINO FROM CURB RECORDS

Interview with Country Music Star Harper Grace on American Idol, Relationships and New Music

Music & Podcasts

Fri, February 16

"I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a talker,” Harper Grace says halfway through our interview. She laughs about it and continues, not waiting for any words of encouragement or apologetic absolution.

One does notice that she likes to express herself boldly through words in private and in public. Her fans and the country scene in Nashville know that too, through her lyrics and her faith; she speaks to her audience.

The parallels with Taylor Swift stare you in the eye even before you get to meet Harper, but once you do, the comparisons and familiar cadence of a ‘young, blonde country girl star’ fade into the background as the distinct differences draw a clearer picture of who she is.

A singer, songwriter, American Idol alum. Harper has chosen the somewhat new route of making music - instead of announcing an album, she builds up the momentum by releasing singles not too far apart from one another.

It’s one of those aforementioned differences between her and Taylor Swift. Harper sat down with me to discuss her experiences in the music industry, emphasizing the importance of setting goals, working hard, and staying true to one's artistic vision.

Her journey from gospel to country music, highlighting her growth in maturity and communication, how she manifested a recording contract with Nashville’s venerated Curb Records and attributing the detour to divine intervention.

Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Inglesino from Curb Records

Hey Harper! How are you?

I’m good! How are you?

I'm doing very well, again, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. So, it's the new year, 2024. Do you have any New Year's resolutions for yourself?

Actually, every year I always pray to receive a word, kind of like my staple of the year or the title for the year. And this year, the Lord put on my heart the word "acceleration" and the drive. That is kind of what I picture for my career this year: just really putting the pedal to the metal, staying focused, working hard, and keeping on going.

I think I'll borrow that one to set the tone for the entirety of the discussion about your career. Let's start at the beginning. Let's talk about American Idol. Looking back on your experience on the show, how did the show impact your growth as an artist, and what valuable lessons did you learn from the challenges and successes during that time?

Oh my gosh, that's such a great question. I am so grateful for my experience on Idol. I think it grew me as an artist a lot.

I really made sure that if I went on the show, I could sing the songs that meant a lot to me. "Yardsale," that I wrote, and then singing another one called "Rest in Peace” really allowed me to hone in on the songs that I loved so much and took the time to write, and to stay true to myself as an artist. Getting the experience to go in and meet all the people and make such good friends through that show, as well as getting great advice from the judges alone, was incredible. I remember the very first audition that I had. Luke [Bryan] commented a lot on the lyricism that I took the time to write in "Yardsale," which I was just beyond grateful for. Even having the opportunity to be called back at the season finale of the season I was on, to come back and sing "Yardsale" on their finale was amazing. It was an overall incredible experience, and I'm so grateful. I would even go back if they ever asked me to come back. I would be beyond honored to be some kind of mentor on the show. It plays a big part in my story and my journey, and I'm just so grateful.

I'm wondering, your choice to sing original songs on Idol was very unconventional, very original. Do you think that's what helped you break through the mold and differentiate yourself amongst all those wonderful, talented artists out there?

Yeah, you know, that could be a possibility. I did sing covers throughout some of the other rounds that they didn't show, but I grew up going to Nashville back and forth since I was fourteen years old. At that point, I had written probably over three hundred songs in my catalog, so they were so near and dear to my heart.

Also, I'm very, I don't know, I just want to make decisions that continue to benefit my growth and myself. So choosing to do originals was kind of just something for me.

Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Inglesino from Curb Records

So, speaking of your catalog - of your wonderful music, you're a songwriter. Not that there's anything wrong with artists who have songs written for them, but still, it's a commendable skill. Your music, it has evolved so much - How would you describe the evolution of your artistry? And are there any specific experiences that have influenced the direction of your music?

I remember falling in love with lyricism in country music, especially the moment my Nana played Dolly Parton in her kitchen. I really fell in love with that. I grew up singing gospel music and was in a gospel choir at the church my dad helped plant in my hometown.

So, I really fell in love with the soulful aspect of music as well as grasping onto the storytelling lyrics of country music. When I was making my way into Nashville, I hadn't gone through much life yet. Most of the things I was writing about were inspired by romance movies, news stories, or tales from friends.

I also did some acting, so I'd create characters and stories on my own. I was intrigued by creating stories that you could close your eyes and visualize when you listened to them. From ages fourteen to seventeen, that was kind of my imagination phase.

Then, throwing it back to when I was 11 and went through a crazy experience with the National Anthem, it made me realize how cruel the world can be and inspired me to mature quickly. I felt compelled to communicate differently and be a source of encouragement for others. So, evolving from that incident, moving from Texas to Nashville, writing songs, and being as imaginative as I could, I officially moved to Nashville almost three years ago when I signed my deal with Curb. Living on my own, making mistakes, learning, growing, being in relationships – all of it has taught me that music and songwriting are therapeutic. It's a way to tell stories that many people can relate to but may not have the opportunity to share themselves.

Now, at twenty-two, I've learned not to hold back on honesty. I aim to be as transparent and real as possible in every song and aspect of my life. We're releasing a bunch of singles this year, and I'm very excited about that.

Throughout the next couple of years, you'll hear about some of the things I've been through, including ended relationships and mistakes I've made, but I'll be honest about it and share the growth journey, hoping it's relatable to others. It's been humbling to take a bird's eye view of my own career and see how far I've come. I believe the Lord has brought me from point A to point B, and the journey continues. I'm excited to see where I continue to evolve.

I'm glad you brought up the national anthem incident because unfortunately, bullying is still prevalent, even in the entertainment industry. You'd think that people would be kinder to singers they idolize, but obviously not. So, have you personally faced challenges related to bullying, even from that point onward, and how do you believe the music industry specifically can work towards creating a more supportive and inclusive environment?

Oh, my goodness. I mean, it kind of doesn't stop, the bullying aspect, unfortunately.

Dammit.

Ha, I know, I know. That's something that's so heavy on my heart. Just rewinding from the National Anthem, I mean, over a million views in less than twenty-four hours, being the top story all over the world, and getting played on the commercial break of the Olympics.

It's crazy because even just a few years later, I was still getting prank calls with people singing the national anthem, and the last time I had that was maybe two years ago. So, it still goes on. People bring up the anthem, but even besides that, yeah, the world is such a cruel place. But at the end of the day, I think that the main thing is that a human's biggest desire is to be loved, wanted, appreciated, and seen, and verbalized the fact that we are seen. So, for the people who are continuously saying mean things, it's a factor of them really wanting to be seen. So, even though it may hurt to read things, I personally look at their heart instead and just pray for them because I know that they're just wanting love and wanting to be seen. With that, sometimes I'll even reach out specifically one-on-one and just be like, "Hey, thank you for your comment. How are you? Can I help you?"

Oh, that’s so nice.

Just trying to understand that we're all human and we all make mistakes, and there are times where our insecurities can get the best of us. That's just the moment when, especially if you have good friends around you who can check you and you leave an open space for accountability in that aspect to be like, "Hey, if I'm ever acting a certain way or being rude towards somebody else, please check me and ask me what's really going on," because, I'm a girl, you know, we all have our insecurities.

And we all catch ourselves thinking something bad about ourselves or somebody else, but it's just how you navigate that. Instead of putting somebody else down, try to encourage them and think about the other person who may be saying something rude as well.

This year, something that we are working towards is actually something that I started doing when I was 11, which was going out and doing school tours, coming into schools, whether that's at their assembly or something they set up, and talking about my story and sharing what happened, trying to encourage the younger generation, especially now with how crazy social media has evolved and how there are different platforms and many different ways to continue to break people down, which is so sad because I believe that those same platforms could be used for such bigger potential and encouragement.

So, my thing is, I would love to continue to go in and speak to these schools and speak to the younger generation.

Such a healthy outlook to have on life. I'm just really touched by your dedication to the younger generation. And you said you're very open to your fans and to anyone who has their ears open as well. So, as you continue to grow both professionally and personally, how do you navigate that balance between sharing your journey with the public and maintaining aspects of your life that are more private just to yourself?

I think that's actually one of my hardest balances because I am such an open book. And I do love to share so much about myself. I don't know if you've noticed, but I am a talker.

I love it. I love a comfy atmosphere with comfy celebrities with loose tongues, like on a Graham Norton couch.

I’m so glad, ha-ha. But, yeah, there is definitely a boundary that I have to set for myself, and just knowing that if I share too much, you know, then there's too much for people to, like you said, actually come at me for, which is hard. But for the most part, I don't really have too much to hide.

But I think, like when it comes to personal relationships and just navigating through that, I'm single so I don't have to worry about that right now. But you know, in the past when I've been in a relationship, I do take a long time to be able to actually share with my fans about it. And so, yeah, I think just finding the boundary of that has been difficult, but for the most part, everybody knows pretty much everything that they can know about me.

It’s liberating in a sense, no?

Yeah, I think I'm at the point of "What You See Is What You Get," and also, like I said, I grew up very faith-based, and so my faith is really the main thing that keeps me grounded in my relationship with Christ. But I think too, it's like whoever the Lord brings into the aspect of social media or even just my music community in that sense, they're meant to be there. So I don't want to hold back on anything that I've learned or what I've been through if there are specific people that need to hear it.

With that, I think that's why I continue to stay an open book and share a lot of bits and pieces of my life, especially in my lyrics. That's kind of my goal: to stay that way with the intention of what needs to really stay private for growth purposes. To keep it that way, and then I'm sure at some point, there'll be times where I'll evolve, and then I'll be able to share and talk about that season or whatever. But, you know, I want to learn privately as well so that I'm able to write songs and communicate in a way that the audience can also learn and connect with.

Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Inglesino from Curb Records

As you go to the schools and meet your friends, I'm sure you encounter a lot of eager fans who also aspire to be musicians. What do you tell them to break through? Do you give them any practical advice on how to get ahead in the industry? If they asked you, ‘Hey, Harper, how do I become a recording artist?’

What do you tell them?

Well, I can kind of go back to where I started, especially when I figured out that I really wanted to do music and that Nashville was the place to be.

It's really having the drive and the dedication to do it. I mean, if you dream it and you have the dedication, I believe that you can do anything you set your mind to. But with music in particular, the thing that I did was go on Wikipedia and look up all my favorite artists.

I looked at my favorite albums, I looked up who wrote those albums. I looked up who are the number one songwriters in town. I looked up the publishing company emails and from the age of fourteen, that's the very first time I ever took a trip to Nashville, but I had emailed and I had texted and I had reached out via Instagram messages, and you know, I got a bunch of nos, like a bunch. But I got a few yeses.

So I didn't let the nos be the thing that discouraged me because the first message I got back was a no, but I knew in my spirit, in my heart, that I wanted to do it so bad that I didn't care what I had to do to be able to get it done. And so as soon as, you know, about fifteen nos went through and one yes came through, that was the thing that continued to drive me. So if anybody's looking to get into music, I'd say to do the same thing: look up your favorites, listen to your favorite albums, and see who wrote that.

Do research on the people in Nashville and the people in this town because I cannot vocalize enough how much I love Nashville with my whole heart. This town is so small and everybody knows everybody. That could be bad sometimes.

But, it's such a family out here, and just the industry and the route of country music as a whole is the sweetest place to be. And there are so many talented people out here, and the songwriters that have been here for years and years, but I look up to them as, like, mom and dad, who have just been so sweet to encourage and uplift me through this career. So, if someone's striving to be out here and make connections and relationships happen, then I'd say once they get a good handful of yeses, to be in this town because, you know, you'll fall in love with it and you'll realize how important it is to actually physically be here when you step foot into the industry.

This is probably going to be an annoying question, but it would be a crime not to ask, because there are some similarities between your journey and Taylor Swift's. Two young women, two Country stars. You knock on doors a lot, she knocked on doors a lot.

She reached out to fans and made genuine connections, you reach out to fans and make genuine connections. Have you ever thought about these similarities and have you ever thought about switching the sound from Country to Pop music as well? Or is Country something that you are dedicated to?

Honestly, I love that question because I really do look up to Taylor and the way that she's branded her business. Yeah, she is so inspiring in the aspect of, like you said, communicating with her fans. I think that's her number one.

And that seems very much like my number one. I think music in general is what I love most. And so I don't know what direction that takes me into and what the years continue to evolve in with music in particular as a whole. I think country has evolved a lot since I was a kid. And the lines of, you know, what is country? What is pop? Is such a funny, funny description.

The line between Pop and Country starts to blur more and more each day, no?

It does, it does. I love writing music, and I love making new sounds. Wherever that takes me in the next few years or in my career, then I'll go with it.

But Country has my heart for sure. And I think that I will probably never leave my love of country lyrics for the rest of my life because, um, that's where it all started with storytelling. And you go back to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Elvis and Dolly, and those are just, you know, they've always been the greatest at telling stories and making music come to life. But as the sound evolves, I don't know where it's going to go. I don't know where Country will be in five years, but I love where it's at now, and I'm very, like I said, glad that Country's opened its arms for me to be a part of the sound.

It's good to have an open mind. We love to hear it, and we love your music. So you know, if it ain't broke, why fix it?

Absolutely.

Speaking of Country, you are the Curb Records recording artist. Congratulations!

Thank you!

How did that collaboration manifest into your life? Walk me through it. I'm so curious.

Goodness, so what's wild is that I, like I said, I came to Nashville for the first time when I was fourteen. And um, my, I came out here, I did a bunch of meetings and, and whatnot, but from the age of 14 and then coming back after American Idol about seventeen, eighteen, I had met with pretty much every single publishing and every single record label in town. But I realized the only person I never met with was Curb.

I had never stepped foot in that building or anything. And actually, it's kind of crazy because it's really much more of a God story than it is like a tactic story, because it actually stemmed from me going to a church out here called The Belonging. A woman actually came up to me after a service that I was praying at, about what the Lord wanted me to do out in Nashville.

Obviously, the publishing deal was something that I really aspired to have as well as the record deal. After church, this woman came up and said, "The Lord told me to tell you the word 'detour,'" and she's like, "I don't know what that means, but, you know, maybe take a different route home or something. And, you know, see where it gets you." And I'm like, "Uh, okay, well, that's not scary. Please, Lord, don't let me get in a wreck." You know, I'm like, sure. What? You know? Oh my God. So the next day, I'm driving around Music Row downtown and I'm looking for the detour sign because I looked for detour signs on my way home and found none that night.

And so, going back into writing, I had left a writing session. It was midday and I'm driving around Music Row and there's literally nobody on the street, which is wild because it's 3:00 and usually people are all driving at that time, right? It seemed like a ghost town at that time, which was very odd.

And I was driving around and all of a sudden I realized that I'm just taking a bunch of left turns, and I look up and it's because there's a bunch of detour signs and I'm trying to follow them. I'm like, "Why is it taking me around in a circle?" And as soon as I realized it was taking me around in a circle, I look up and there's this construction man with a stop sign, and there's a detour sign on my right and a detour sign on my left. And I look up and I'm standing, or, you know, parked right in front of a Curb Records building. And I'm like, "Well, that's strange. Like, I've never been in there before."

That’s absolutely wild.

Wild!

I wonder what that's about. So the guy finally takes the stop sign away because I started getting frustrated since there's nobody driving, why can't I go? So I keep on turning, and I'm now circling the Curb building.

So Curb has a lot of different buildings that he sponsors within town itself. And so we have a handful of buildings connected to Belmont, but also like a recording studio and storage space and our old writing rooms and whatnot. So there's like a Curb corner with five different Curb buildings in one section. And so with these detour signs, they just kept having me go in a circle and nobody else was driving. And I circled Curb for probably seven times. And I just at that point, I was like, you know what, Lord? Like, I have no idea if I'm supposed to be here. I don't even know why I'm driving in circles, but I know that it's for a purpose. And so I'm just going to say, like, whatever you want to do, that you would do it, and I trust you. And, you know, if you want my foot inside of a Curb door and to meet somebody from there, I just, I pray that you would open the doors and opportunities to do so.

And then finally, one of the detour signs just so happened to be picked up and gone. And I could continue on going straight. And I laughed and I was like, okay, well, that was really weird.

I'm just going to, you know, continue with my life and keep writing music. And so that trip continued, and it wasn't until 2020, at the end of that year, I started writing with some people at Curb, and I got a meeting set up with Laurel Kittleson, who was the head of A&R at the time at Curb. And I sat in her office and I told her the same thing about circling and detour, and I was like, I don't know, man. Like, seems like seems like a sign maybe. And we had gotten really close through that meeting and bonded a lot over our faith. And after that, her and a sweet girl named Nina, who works the head of publishing, flew out to Texas. And at the end of 2019, they came and watched a showcase.

At the end of October and all of November and December, we all stayed in contact. And right when January, February came along, they booked a bunch of things on my calendar with all the Curb writers and kind of wanted to test the track and see, you know, where it could go from there. And, um, I came out for a little bit, and then Covid happened, and it got shut down, and I was like, gosh dang it.

Well, I guess I'm not going to sign my publishing deal or my record deal. So I guess I'll sit down for a little bit. But that time was really great. I wrote a lot by myself and also just, you know, came to a conclusion that whatever was going to happen was all a part of the Lord's plan.

And then I got asked to come back out at the end or middle of 2020. At that point, the Curb team was actually evolving and kind of switching roles, and two girls from Radio Disney country side from their label that I've known since I was fourteen took a job over at Curb. And so the head of publishing was somebody that I knew since I was fourteen and we still stayed in contact.

So I remember just sitting up in her office and, you know, telling her that I had other offers and other people trying to, you know, ask me to come and be a part of their team, and I was so grateful. But there was something about Curb, and there was something about just the connection that my heart had to it. And so, so with that, there were a lot of conversations.

And then one day I get a call from Sierra Shortridge and Colt Mirsky, who works up there, and they were both at publishing at the time, and they called me and said that they FaceTimed me and said, one day I was very sick, actually, the day that I got the call, I had to cancel my writing session, but I was sitting on the couch with no makeup, and I get this FaceTime call and both of them are on and I'm like, something's wrong. What's happening? Like, why are you guys both Face Timing me? This is weird.

And they ended up saying that they wanted to sign me with publishing. And I just remember crying and being so grateful for it. And then just a few months later, actually, Sierra got promoted into the A&R position, and the head of the record side, and she called me immediately when she had gotten promoted, and she said that the first thing that she wanted to do in that position was to offer me a record deal.

And I just had such a sweet, sweet experience. Yeah. Crazy.

I'm not the one who's in the driver's seat. As much as I, you know, want to be, sometimes it's so much it's so much more encouraging knowing that that plans are already ordained and that if you just stay the course and listen to to the things that the Lord puts on your heart or you just listen to your spirit, and try to just decipher what is the right move to make that, that the things that need to be open will be open and the things that need to be shut will be shut.

And so I signed my record deal shortly after that, and I'm just overjoyed because of the friendships that I have with the two ladies that do run most of my things up at Curb. But the Curb team as a whole is a family in itself.

I mean, Curb has been around for so long and their legacy and what they hold at the company is really, really incredible. Being at a company that is a major, major label that's done some pretty incredible things in the industry is a huge honor. And the championship that I have within the whole company as itself, and the amount of support that I have with everybody just means the world to me.

And so that's my story on how we ended up getting to where we're at today. I'm excited to do new things at the company with new people and, and kind of make some different history and see where it goes.

Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Inglesino from Curb Records

Oh my gosh, you took me on a whole journey, that’s amazing. I didn't purposefully phrase that question, ‘How did that collaboration manifest into your life?’ like that, but you might be right, all things are connected. We will go back to your music, but I have to ask you about your acting too.

You played the role of Maddie in the short film ‘The In Between.’ Country music specifically is just so linked to storytelling. Is acting something you’d like to explore more?

No, actually, that's something that we talked a lot about at the end of last year, trying to see how to piece that in. Because when I was younger, I made a lot of trips out to LA and did a lot of different things, whether that was commercials or, you know, sometimes it got down to me and another girl for a show and then that show didn't end up getting greenlit or something like that.

But acting for me, I also love. I think that I'm very versatile and creative in that aspect because I love acting, I love dancing, I love singing, I love writing songs, and anything creative, modeling, like, whatever it is, I really find a lot of joy in it.

But I was telling my team at the end of last year how much I would just love to, you know, whether it be in movies or a series or something, I would love to continue to dabble in acting because I think as the career continues to grow, Lord willing, that there are other opportunities that can present themselves and come from that. Yeah, definitely. At this point in this year, music is the focus.

But I believe that whatever opportunity comes, I would love to take it if it's the best fit for me and who I am. But acting, and that in general, I would be very excited to get into this year, more in the following years as well.

Who's your favorite actor?

Oh, goodness gracious.

Top three. I'll give you leeway. Give me the top three.

I'm also really, really bad with names.

Oh, what a coincidence, so am I. I could be talking to someone for two weeks and have no freaking idea what their name is, plus I’m a coward so I never really ask again and admit I forgot.

Ha-ha! I’m actually much better with faces too! But okay, so, for comedy, I think Jack Black is my favorite actor.

Then, Blake Lively. Blake Lively is absolutely incredible, a phenomenal actress. And actually, Ryan Reynolds, ironically, you know, they're cute together, but I think any Ryan Reynolds movie is good. Also Matthew McConaughey, all of his movies, they're very intriguing. I didn't actually think I knew people's names. So there. Look at me.

Look at you! So, tell me about the new music. You have a new single coming out, from what I understand. Is that right?

So new music-wise, we do have our first single supposed to drop in April. The single is called "Break It Like a Man," which I'm super, super excited about. I think it's, you know, back to talking about how the music's evolved and the story and stuff like that.

It shows a little bit more edge as we're coming into this 2024 year. We've got a music video that's going to follow it, and there's something that gets lit on fire at the end of it. I play another character in it, and I'm just really, really excited for that song to be first because I kind of got to co-produce in a slight way and also co-direct the music video. There are just a lot of aspects of my creativity that I was able to put into all of that, which I'm just very excited about. But for this year as a whole, we're trying something new. I think last year we released three singles. This year is the year for lots of music. It's not going to be an album, but we are going to spam the next few months with some things and see how it does and what the audience reaction is and see what resonates more with the community.

So yeah, right after "Break It Like a Man," I believe it's a song called "Getaway." And that, to me, is like a drop-top Jeep drive in the middle of the summer with your hand out of the window with the guy or the girl that you're dating. It's a sweet little kind of romance, drive-around song. That's kind of what we did for the music video as well.

But yeah, the ones to follow after that are some pretty honest songs. I have this one that I'm really excited about called "Apologetic Song." It goes back to how you and I were chatting about me using music as therapy and just being completely honest in my songs. I think that alone is probably one of the most real songs after "Oh, Say, Can You See" that plays a lot to my actual personal journey.

And every lyric in that song is true. So that song means a lot to me. It's called "Apologetic Song" because the hook of it says, "I'm sorry to the ones whose hearts I broke along the way to finding mine." It just tells the journey of me coming out of a three-year verbally, physically, and emotionally abusive relationship and my coping mechanisms shortly after, realizing that the way that I was coping was not really a great way to cope, and just letting my insecurities be in the driver's seat of my life.

And then, you know, I have songs of how I got out of that, but that really tells the story of that season. So I'm just excited to share more stories and to see how people react and to just get things out there. But this year is accelerating, like we said, and pushing the gas as far down as we can, taking stops where we need to. But yeah, I think there will be a total of eight songs hopefully this year that will come out, starting in April.

That's like a whole album's worth of tracks. We've got a lot, a lot to look forward to!

Lots and lots to come. So that's the plan for now. We're hoping it stays that way and we can get them out in time because releasing a song every four weeks is a lot that goes into that on the marketing side for sure, and all of that.

So we're really hoping that it all aligns perfectly and that, you know, if it doesn't, then there's supposed to be another plan. But as of now, that is where the plan of recording stands. And all those songs aren't finished yet. So in the next few weeks, I'll be back in the studio and getting those done and navigating through all of that. But yeah, I'm very excited for new music to come out.

Oh man, me too. I can't wait to hear it.

Thank you.

Harper, thank you so much!

Connect with Harper on her Instagram

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Zara Miller
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Writer since Oct, 2020 · 20 published articles

Zara Miller is a published author, writer, and blogger. She is a graduate of Middlesex University London where she studied International Relations. Her debut YA novel I am Cecilia attracted the eye of prominent speaking conferences such as the Career Grad Festival and Association of Writers and Writing Programs and was nominated for a Reader's Choice Award.

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