By Phoebe Sisk, Cpt., 1st Brigade, Texas State Guard
If you ask Fritz Hager III what landed him on the 20th season of American Idol, which premiered this past February, he will tell you that yes, it was talent and yes, it was hard work- but even more so it was having to prove, as one of six siblings competing for shared resources, that his commitment to his music was to be taken seriously.
And as the second son born into a military family and namesake to his West Point graduate father, Hager possessed the pluck and determination, early on, to do just that.
Having been brought up in the church and exposed to live bands ever since toddlerhood, Hager knew his musical interests at a young age. He was relentless in convincing his parents, Texas State Guard 1st Brigade Lead Chaplain Fritz Hager and wife Sarina, that his fascination was more than a passing fancy. “It took me two years, but I finally persuaded them to get me a guitar in sixth grade. I’ll never forget coming home after only one lesson- I learned four chords- and writing my first song. It was not very good...”
Clearly, Hager has mastered the learning curve since then, earning comments from viewers that he is “the total package- a true artist.” Not only can he sing, he writes stunningly beautiful original songs, such as “All My Friends” which aired as a rehearsal tape, due to the fact that Hager had contracted covid in May and was unable to perform the round live. Fans were blown away, and even American Idol producers posted on Twitter, “Maybe the best original song on Idol...ever!?”
Hager believes that his heartfelt approach to his craft has been a niche advantage with fans.
“Talent can only get you so far, so in addition to working hard, I set about to be as authentic as possible, knowing that American Idol is a reality TV show. I’m not a powerhouse singer, I am a songwriter and storyteller and I tried to pour my heart out at every performance,” said Hager.
For Hager, reaching the audience in the way that he desired meant really risking and putting himself out there.
“I think that my superpower is my ability to help others feel deeply. I have always been a feeler, which hurt me in high school- it’s hard to be vulnerable and to have to bottle stuff up. Being a man and being vulnerable is not easy in our culture, especially in my case coming from a military family in the South. It’s easy to shut that part of yourself off,” he said.
But instead of hiding this aspect of himself from fans, Hager made a courageous and intentional choice to be transparent with his audiences. “Music is a creative outlet to vent our thoughts and feelings- it is something that can be a great tool as it heals all of us,” he said.
Clearly, viewers feel the catharsis of his songs, voting Hager as one of the top 5 contestants for this season of American Idol, which began casting calls in August of 2021.
As one of approximately 100,000 contestants to audition virtually during COVID, Hager felt that his initial entrée via Zoom, versus performing in a stadium in front of a live audience, was an advantage in that it made participation easy and accessible. “It’s one of the reasons I decided to try out,” he said.
But before Hager got comfortable with the large crowds, he first had to brave perhaps the toughest audience of all - his family.
“It’s hard to logically justify as a music career is so risky,” said Hager. “But my parents and I have learned to bridge that gap and now the conversation is how can we optimize this situation, how can we make this payout for the long run?”
Hager clearly appreciates the loyalty and strength gleaned from the military roots of his family. “I come from a very supportive family- and they ensured my success in staying balanced as they were truly my only inner circle throughout...” he said.
According to Hager, his father’s left-brain leaning logic helped him to appreciate the benefit of planning for his right-brain creative career. Additionally, it helped to discuss with him the intensity, stress, and downright trauma of seeing friends cut during Hollywood Week. “He understood that what I experienced was not unlike the military in that few others will ever be able to relate to such a singular and extreme encounter,” said Hager.
“What Fritz III went through was much like going off to basic training, or even combat, where he was enduring an emotional, transformative experience, with the added pressure-cooker of 5 million people watching,” said the performer’s father, Chaplain Fritz Hager. “(Fritz III) handled it with grit and an incredible focus on the next thing. I was just as proud of how he approached the challenge as what he accomplished!”
The future looks bright for the younger Hager- and will hopefully include both playing shows and recording, and possibly reuniting with American Idol fellow contestant and friend Leah. Meanwhile, he continues to savor the richness of the memories. “I am filled with joy and fully realize that every minute was a gift from the audience to me,” he said.
Hager says, above all, he has learned the importance of being a decent person- of being professional, kind, and easy to work with- and hopes to be an example to his younger siblings Henry, Joe, Lucy, and Sam. “My oldest brother Jack is at West Point and has shown us the value of his work ethic. I hope to be a different kind of example of following your passion,” he said.
Whether Hager (the performer) will join Hagar (his father, the Chaplain) in military service to his home state remains an open question. If so, he certainly wouldn’t be alone in serving alongside a parent. While many veterans of federal forces are members of the Texas State Guard, prior service is not required – only a heart of selfless service. Currently, there are opportunities for Texans with a wide range of experiences to serve, from chaplains, lawyers, and law enforcement professionals to engineers, construction workers, health care workers, teachers - and people with exceptional creative talents and skills.
The Texas State Guard is one of three branches of the Texas Military Department, which also includes the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard. The Governor is the Commander-in-Chief. More information about the State Guard and recruitment contacts can be found online at tmd.texas.gov in the State Guard tab.