Doreen “Dee” Haven sits with her husband, Mike, and their dog Frankie while watching their future daughter-in-law Julia Gagnon perform “American Idol” from their home Friday in Waterville. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Mike and Doreen Haven couldn’t believe their ears the first time they heard their future daughter-in-law, Julia Gagnon, sing.

They were at the family camp in Poland, sitting around the campfire and playing guitars and singing, and a usually quiet Gagnon got up the courage to sing along.

“It was, ‘Oh, my God,'” Mike Haven recalled.

The magnitude of Gagnon’s talent hit Doreen Haven when she heard her perform at a Central Maine Idol competition last summer at the Quarry Tap Room in Hallowell.

“The first time she did it, I sat there and bawled my eyes out,” she said.

Gagnon won the contest, garnering a $10,000 prize. The woman who as a girl was too afraid to show her talent because she didn’t want to stand out in school, got up the courage to audition for “American Idol” last year and was accepted.


Now, Gagnon’s is a household name, garnering wild praise as one of only 14 performers left in the contest, which resumes at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday on ABC. Gagnon has been in Hollywood since the end of March.

For the Havens, whose son Nate proposed to Gagnon in December, the situation is something they never imagined in their wildest dreams.

“We both said it a couple of times – it’s surreal,” Doreen Haven, 47, said. “You don’t ever fathom that your child is going to start dating and be engaged to an ‘American Idol’ contestant.”

Mike Haven, left, and his wife, Doreen “Dee” Haven, sit on their couch Friday in Waterville where they watch their future daughter-in-law Julia Gagnon perform on “American Idol.” Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Mike Haven, 48, concurred: “Seeing her and us and the family on TV is just weird,” he said.

The Havens were sitting in their Waterville living room Friday night, their large, shepherd-yellow Lab mix dog, Frankie, at their feet as they played videos of their son and Gagnon singing songs they have written together. Nate also plays the guitar in the videos.

The dog’s tall ears perked up, and he looked toward the dining room when Gagnon sang solo.


“She’s not here, Frankie,” Doreen Haven said.

Mike Haven, a paramedic and firefighter, and Doreen, an optician, recalled meeting Gagnon for the first time, about a year and a half ago, when Nate brought her to their camp. She was very quiet and sweet, they said.

“She is probably one of the most humble people I have ever met,” Doreen Haven said. “She’s not doing this for fame.”

Doreen Haven said she has a friend whose 11-year-old daughter is very ill and on a feeding tube, and her mother messaged Doreen to tell her the girl admires Gagnon and watches her sing over and over again.

Julia Gagnon, of Cumberland, performs in the top 20 round of “American Idol.” On Monday night’s episode, Gagnon announced as one of the top 14 contestants. Photo courtesy of Disney/Eric McCandless

“I sent the message to Julia and said, ‘This is proof that you’re changing people,'” Doreen Haven recalled. “Julia messaged me back, saying, ‘I’m crying at 6 a.m. That’s exactly the reason I do this stuff. That’s so special.'”

Nate Haven and Gagnon met online when Gagnon was attending college in New York, according to his parents. They both had music in common. Nate had been playing the guitar and singing since 16. He and Gagnon wrote songs together and performed online. Doreen and Mike Haven played some of the videos Friday night, one with Gagnon singing a song she wrote for them called “Bittersweet,” about how children grow up and move away but always come back home. Doreen Haven couldn’t hold back the tears.


“I haven’t had any people say she doesn’t send chills down their spine and make them cry,” she said.

Mike Haven, who also plays guitar, said Gagnon is her own worst critic when it comes to performing.

“She’s super critical of herself,” he said.

The Havens flew to Hawaii for Gagnon’s “American Idol” performance there in early February, when they also celebrated Nate’s 21st birthday, they said. Gagnon turned 22 in March. After the Hawaii stint, Gagnon quit her job at a clothing shop in Falmouth and poured herself into her schoolwork at University of Southern Maine, where she is a senior majoring in history and on a law school track, the Havens said. She and Nate Haven, who works for T-Mobile at the mall in South Portland, live in Cumberland with their Bernese mountain dog puppy, Odin, and a little gray cat, Layla, the Havens said.

“He is super excited,” Mike Haven said of how Nate feels about Gagnon’s success.

While details of the show’s plans aren’t always publicized beforehand, Doreen Haven said she has read that two contestants will be eliminated Sunday night and two more Monday night, whittling the number down to 10. The last episode is scheduled for May 19, she said.


This is a special and busy time for the Haven family, as their son Dylan, who also plays guitar, and his fiance, Hannah, are expecting a child Nov. 19. And the Havens’ daughter, Audri, and her boyfriend, Dade, are expecting a child on July 29.

Last spring, the Havens met Gagnon’s adoptive parents, Jim and Meg Gagnon, of Cumberland, and loved them as they love their future daughter-in-law, Gagnon, who was born in Guatemala.

“She’s amazing,” Mike Haven said.

They have been urging friends and strangers to vote for Gagnon on Sunday night by texting 21523, as winners are chosen by a vote of the public. One may text up to 10 times, vote on the “American Idol” app up to 10 times, and vote again at up to 10 times, for a total of 30 votes, they said.

“I yelled it before I walked out of the office tonight: ‘Vote, vote, vote!'” Doreen Haven said.

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