mat talk

Cheer’s Jerry Harris on Positivity, Pressure, and Returning to Navarro

Jerry Harris, one of the breakout personalities of Cheer, season one, on Netflix. Photo: Netflix

Jerry Harris, the boundlessly positive breakout personality from the Netflix docuseries Cheer, has won over pretty much everyone who has become obsessed with the behind-the-scenes look at the Navarro College cheer squad. The son of a single mother who died of cancer when Jerry was still in high school, he has a story of resilience and infectious joy that has helped him become a darling of social media; a charmer of Ellen DeGeneres, Hoda Kotb, and Jenna Bush during a whirlwind press tour; a fave of everyone from NFL player (and recent SNL host) J.J. Watt to Reese Witherspoon; and the star of a viral video in which he “mat talks” — the cheer term for pumping up fellow competitors — people on their way to work.

Jerry took a break from his hectic schedule of spreading happiness to talk about how he’s been handling all the attention, how he keeps his own spirits up, and the fact that on the day we spoke, his coach, Monica Aldama, would be announcing who made mat for nationals in April. (Jerry said he didn’t plan to post on social media about whether he made it or not, especially because who’s on mat and who isn’t remains so fluid up until competition time.)

You’ve said in other interviews that you did not expect this kind of response to Cheer. What moment since it came out has really knocked you over?
Honestly, I feel like I’m still knocked over. I still feel like it’s unreal. Just talking to celebrities and other sort of stuff on social media and just the overwhelming love and support we’re getting from those types of people, and even the people that aren’t celebrities that are still showing us love and support … it’s unreal. It’s crazy to us, and we love it.

Are people coming up to you on the street?
On the streets in New York — Times Square, whatever you want to call it. Hollywood Boulevard, yes. We got off the plane when we were going to L.A., and three people came up to me while we were standing at the baggage claim.

People probably feel like they know you, even though they obviously don’t. Is that a weird feeling for you?
I want to say a little bit. It’s a little bit of a weird feeling, But I see them coming from a good place, and I see nothing but positive things from them. So that’s the way I look at it.

I know you went to Louisville in the fall and then decided to come back to Navarro. What made you decide to leave Louisville?
I just thought it wasn’t the place for me. I wanted to be where it was home for me, so I reached out to Monica seeing if she had any room for me and she did. So I decided to make the decision myself to come back and just live my life and just be somewhere where I wanted to be.

Louisville is obviously a much bigger school. Did that have anything to do with it?
Um, kind of, but it was a different vibe from Navarro. I’m really attracted to the vibe at Navarro, which is why, like I said, I decided to choose Navarro and come back.

When did you come back?
The beginning of this semester.

So when you came back, had the show come out yet, or no?
No, I moved in a day or two before it actually came out.

I wanted to ask you about something in the show. There’s a scene in which several of you are in this class about the history of Texas. Was that an accurate portrayal of how that class was? And how did you do in that class?
I think they just caught my face at a weird point, and I was just trying to listen to what [the teacher] was talking about. I think what she was saying was lined up to where my face looked the way it did. The teacher is amazing. I love her. She’s very helpful to the cheerleaders, especially.

Oh really?
Yeah, she’s very awesome. She was just describing how it was different, how [Texas] was different back then, and you guys didn’t hear the part where she was comparing it to the way it is now.

Interesting. Okay.
That was why my face looked the way it did.

As someone who lifts up other people, you’ve been asked in other interviews who lifts you up, and you’ve said your mom and the spirit of your mom. But I’m wondering: When you want to give yourself an extra energy boost or put yourself in a good mood, do you have a playlist that you listen to? What do you do to get your energy up?
I really like cheer music, so I listen to that on the daily and I think that’s the actual thing that really gets me pumped.

When you say cheer music, what would be an example?
Very loud, very upbeat, very fast tempo, very moving from one spot to the next, very in your face.

The stuff you do routines to, basically?
Exactly. Yes.

Have you ever lost your voice from mat talking?
I have a few times, but it’s usually when I’m at competitions and I’m just cheering on teams over and over and over and over again and not really getting a break. So that’s usually when it starts to really get to me. Or when it’s a long weekend and I’ve been doing it over and over again. That’s when I start to lose it. Sometimes I have to stop and I have to clap instead of scream, just to try to get myself back together.

So the squad is practicing now for nationals, which is in April.
Yes, we are.

Does anything feel different in what it’s like to be at practice?
It feels like it always does. You know, we still have our closed practices, and we still work hard. In fact, we probably work even harder than we have before, because each year it gets more intense, so we have to step it up. I feel like our work ethic never changes, and we just do what we normally do.

I know you feel a certain pressure to try to win because you’ve set that precedent for yourselves. Does that pressure feel bigger now because more people are going to be aware of you?
Me personally, I don’t feel like it’s a bigger thing, because I as well as other people on the team have been recorded all of our lives being cheerleaders. In our cheer world, they record us and they post us on YouTube, so it’s like we’ve always had eyes on us but now it’s going to be even more. It’s something I’ve experienced before, and just because it’s going to be more people watching, it’s not going to be anything different.

Do you know yet whether you’re going to be on mat for the competition?
Today is mat tryouts; we find out today. I’m hoping for the best.

Wow. You know if you’re not, the entire country is going to come down there and riot.
[Laughs] Okay, I’ll let Monica know, too.

I mean, J.J. Watt is going to lead everybody down there and just raise a stink.
Okay! J.J. Watt just got a job.

You’re going to be getting your associate’s degree at the end of this semester. What will it be in?

Do you know yet what you’re going to do after that, or are you still trying to figure that out?
I’m still trying to figure it out. I want to eventually get a four-year university degree, a bachelor’s, after I leave here. But there’s so many opportunities and so many doors opening, so I’m just — I want to say now I’m going along for the ride and seeing where it takes me because I don’t want to mess up any amazing opportunities that could potentially boost me up in my future.

I know you have been asked if there’s going to be another season of Cheer. I assume you still don’t know the answer to that, right?
We still don’t know the answer.

Would you want to do another one?
Yes, because the amount of people we’ve inspired just by sharing our stories — and it was literally only a few of us — it’s ridiculous, and I love it. I love all the love and positivity that we’re getting and all the support that we’re getting. I feel like with another season, they could bring the same thing but probably take it a step further.

You told really personal stories in the show and shared some really personal stuff about your mom. Did you ever have any misgivings about doing that?
Well, I don’t like to open myself up to many people, so I didn’t just right off the bat tell them these things. It took them months to get this out of me, and they would go in depth with the questions they would ask. So I shared it one day, and when I was sharing it, I was just hoping it would do what it did and inspire people and just motivate people and just let them know they’re never alone and they can always push and they can overcome anything. So that was my goal sharing my story, and with me sharing my story, the goal was reached. I’m very happy and pleased with that.

Did you see the show before it landed on Netflix?
No. I wish! [Laughs]

So you were really seeing it for the first time with everybody else? How did that feel?
It felt really good. It was emotional, it was happy, it was overexcited, it was crying. I didn’t think I was going to be as emotional as I was, but hearing my story getting told to me, it felt like I was reliving it.

Why do you think your positivity resonates with people right now?
I feel like I resonate with people because of how I carry myself and how I act. I feel like people love how positive I am and how uplifting I am to others and how I put others first. And even though I may be hurting or not doing the best, I will always put somebody else first and make them feel better than what they’re feeling. I think that’s why people resonate with me and my story.

You’ve got to have bad days or just days when you have a headache or you’re not in the mood. So how do you get over that? You’ve also got to take care of yourself.
Those days are the ones where I kind of force myself to get over it, because at the end of the day, I have a job to do. I feel like my job is to make others feel better than they feel and make sure they’re happy. So I kind of swallow my pride and just try to help others out as I would do on any normal day. I feel like it comes easy. I don’t feel like it’s ever hard to put somebody else on a pedestal and just treat them really well.

Does it lift your mood when you do that?
Yeah, I feel like it does, just seeing somebody smile. Like, I was at practice the other day and somebody wasn’t having the best day. I just went up to them and I was cheesing at them and I froze in front of them to kind of get them to laugh because they were sad. They just smiled, and that made me want to smile even more. I think things like that just give me fuel, you know?

Cheer’s Jerry on Positivity, Pressure, Returning to Navarro