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Russell wins ‘American Idol’ golden ticket, heads to Hollywood

Kingston Springs native Emmy Russell, 25, won the golden ticket on this season of “American Idol” and will now head to Hollywood. 


Russell made her debut on the ABC Network show on Feb. 25. She auditioned with an original song in front of iconic judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie. 


Russell received the golden ticket after her audition with her original song "Skinny" / Disney, Eric McCandless

Russell, who graduated from Harpeth High School in 2017, is the granddaughter of the late country music legend Loretta Lynn.


“She's one of the biggest country music singers of all time, but to me, she's just my grandma,” Russell said during the second episode of the show’s 22nd installment on Feb. 25. “Growing up on the [tour] bus and all that was very normal to me.” 


Russell toured with Lynn for a short stint upon graduating high school, but told the Gazette during an exclusive interview in January that she wanted to find a musical career separate from her grandmother.


When she entered the room to audition for the “American Idol” judges, she was teased for being too quiet, with R&B singer Lionel Richie jokingly saying, “We’ll have to turn you up some more there.” 


“I think there's a reason why I think I am a little timid, and I think it is because I want to own my voice,” Russell said during her audition. “I want to own it. That’s why I want to challenge myself and come out here and really step in and be like, ‘Okay, come on, Emmy.’” 


“Grandma was a great singer, but she had her own style,” pop singer Katy Perry said in response to Russell. “if you got your own style, then you got your own lane.” 


Russell’s parents, Patsy and Phillip, traveled to California with her for the audition. “I think that when you come from a musical family, the shadow is so big,” Patsy – Lynn’s daughter – said during the episode. “How do I fill their shoes? Well the deal is you don't. You make your own shadow.”


Russell comes from three generations of singers. Her mother Patsy, Loretta Lynn's daughter, sang with her twin sister Peggy in musical duo "The Lynns" / Disney, Eric McCandless

The singer-songwriter auditioned with her original song “Skinny,” which she wrote as a member of the Nashville-based Song House Collective last year. On Aug. 19, 2023, Song House Collective released a clip of “Skinny” on their Instagram account, and the video went viral – receiving more than 5.4 million views.    


Three days later, Russell had recorded and released the song about her history with an eating disorder on Spotify. Song House Collective released a music video for “Skinny” in September. 


“Emmy, you're an A+, songwriter,” Perry said after Russell finished singing and performing her song on the piano. “So was your grandma, you got the gift. I don't think you need to compare yourself to what grandma was, you're totally different. You shouldn't give yourself all that pressure.” 


“My dear you have promise, and I like your promise,” Richie said. “Each one of us is trying to battle something that we're trying to overcome. In your case, you have big shoes. Now if I can just get you to put those shoes back in the closet, that's not your size.” 


Country singer Luke Bryan added, “We just got to lift you up and get you more confident and you just need to own it.” 


All three judges voted yes on Russell’s audition, sending her to “American Idol” Hollywood Week. Tearfully, Russell accepted. 


“I was thinking about my grandma but I was also like, ‘Emmy, she's with you, it's your turn,’” Russell said backstage after she accepted her golden ticket. “I think I'm more like her now than I was whenever I was trying to be like her. Excited, I'm really excited.” 

 

The Fillin’ Station in downtown Kingston Springs threw Russell a watch party on the evening of Feb. 25. The bar was packed as friends and neighbors piled in to support Russell and her family on this new journey. 


The bar’s owner, Patrick Weickenand, said that hosting the watch party was “simply supporting our family, friends, and community – which is all one.” 


When the Gazette asked Russell in January how she feels about representing our small Middle Tennessee town on a national platform, she said she hopes to embody the town’s “unconditional love and generosity.” She added, “I'm just going to carry Kingston Springs with me.”


“Keep me in your prayers and … if I make it through, vote for me,” Russell said. “I just love everyone and thank you for the support that you've shown my entire life. I would want to give Kingston Springs a big hug and say, ‘Thank you for pretty much raising me!’”


You can stream Russell’s full audition episode on Hulu, or watch the clip here


Russell will appear on TV next during Hollywood Week, which is essentially an “American Idol” vocal boot camp for golden ticket winners. Throughout the week, the judges evaluate more than 100 contestants and send home those who don’t meet their “Idol” standards.


While the air dates for this season’s Hollywood Week episodes haven’t yet been released by ABC, based off of last season’s schedule, it’s most likely that Russell’s next on-screen appearance will air at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 31. 

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