Emmy Russell on How ‘American Idol’ Gave Her the Confidence to Sing ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’

Emmy Russell

Being born into the family of a music icon doesn’t necessarily make one a natural to follow in her footsteps, so Emmy Russell, who is country legend Loretta Lynn’s granddaughter, auditioned for American Idol as a way of building her confidence so she can find her own way in the music business.

“I don’t think I’m ever past nerves or confidence,” Emmy told Parade in an exclusive interview at the American Idol Top 10 celebration. “I think it’s a continuing journey for me. But I do think the more that’s going on, I’m getting more confident.”

When Emmy was younger and her late grandmother [Lynn died in October 2022] was still performing, she did take the stage with her. But the now-25-year-old attributes that to being more fearless when she was younger.

That may be, but for her American Idol Top 7 performance, Russell found the courage to pay tribute to her grandmother, sitting at the piano and winning over the judges and the audience with a sensitive, heartfelt rendition of her grandmother’s trademark song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

“I would always run away from my family and not want to be part of it,” Emmy told an intimate group of reporters after her performance. “I think this was the first time that I said, ‘I’m proud to be in this family.’ With the family comes a blessing, but with it comes a curse.”

Related: American Idol Results Tonight: Who Went Home and Who Made the Top 7?

During rehearsals, Emmy said she felt a new pride in her heritage, being descended from coal miners, and acknowledging that they might have been considered the lowest, literally in the ground, but also doing a dangerous job.

"I want people to feel proud of their story, where they’ve come from," she said. "I hope that that song made them feel like, 'Oh, I can be proud of where I come from.'"

American Idol’s Top 7 theme night was the Judges’ Song Contest in which each of the judges anonymously picked a song for each of the remaining artists and then the artists got to pick one from those three.

You might be inclined to believe it was Luke Bryan who picked the song for Emmy because of his country roots, but in reality, “Coal Miners Daughter” was selected by Katy Perry, who told Emmy, “I chose this song not because Loretta Lynn is your grandmother, but I chose this song because you are Emmy Russell, and you can do anything now as Emmy Russell.”

Emmy Russell<p>Disney/Eric McCandless</p>
Emmy Russell

Disney/Eric McCandless

“I feel this weird connection with Katy,” Emmy told Parade. “I feel like she just encouraged me so much and, I don’t know, I just felt like it was her wanting me to be Emmy but then be proud of where I’ve come from, too.”

Related: Will Loretta Lynn’s Granddaughter Sing Her Way to a Gold Ticket to Hollywood on American Idol?

Tonight, the Top 7 will have to pick a song made famous by Adele, and Emmy has been working on that.

“I love Adele,” she said. “I connect to her. I just love that she sings from her soul. I’ve got my song. I’m thinking about it, though. I’m still thinking about it.”

In addition to being a singer, Emmy is a songwriter and she got high praise from Lionel Richie, who declared her song “Want You,” which she performed for the Top 20, to be a "hit record."

“For Lionel Richie to say I have a hit record, I was like, ‘Woah.’ If anyone, he would know,” said Emmy, who describes her musical lane as pop country. “My plans are recording music and releasing music, so I hope that I make that hit record for him.”

But truth be told, she’d be happy selling the song to someone else for it to become a hit.

Emmy Russell<p>Disney/Eric McCandless</p>
Emmy Russell

Disney/Eric McCandless

“Yes, I want to tell my stories,” she said when asked if being a songwriter would be enough. “I think I’d be semi-satisfied. I want to sing my songs, but I would love to write for others. I am fine with writing a hit for somebody else and then me slowly coming up.”

American Idol airs live coast-to-coast on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC, streams next day on Hulu

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