Loretta Lynn's Granddaughter Performs Original Ballad On 'American Idol'

Photo: Disney/Eric McCandless, Getty Images

Emmy Russell auditioned for American Idol with a vulnerable, original song that earned her praise as an “A+ songwriter.” The 24-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee earned a unanimous “yes” from the panel of celebrity judges.

Russell, noted for her soft and timid voice, said it was “a dream” as she stepped into the audition room. She said “growing up, I sang on the road with — my grandma’s a country singer, so I kind of grew up singing…”

Country star and American Idol judge Luke Bryan asked, “who’s your grandma?”

Loretta Lynn.”

Russell shared childhood photos with her legendary grandmother, and toured Lynn’s ranch — her “Memaw’s house” — in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. Russell said of her late grandmother: “She’s one of the biggest country music singers of all time, but to me, she’s just my grandma. And growing up on the bus and all that was very normal to me.”

Lynn “passed away peacefully...in her sleep” the morning of October 4, 2022 at her beloved Hurricane Mills ranch, her family confirmed in a statement at the time. She was 90. The Butcher Holler, Kentucky-born legend was known for her timeless and trailblazing songs like “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “Still Woman Enough” and many others.

Russell said during her American Idol audition that she wants to “own” her voice and “challenge myself.” Her mother, Patsy Lynn Russell, said as she and the rest of the family waited outside the audition room that her daughter “just wanted to do this honestly. This is who I am, this is what I do and this is my heart. I think that when you come from a musical family, the shadow is so big. How do I fill those shoes? Well the deal is, you don’t. You make your own shadow.”

Russell sat at the piano and performed her original ballad, “Skinny,” about an eating disorder.

“Emmy, you’re an A+ songwriter,” Katy Perry said from the panel of judges. “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. I think you came in like a mouse (‘a baby mouse,’ Bryan added).”

Judge Lionel 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.”

“We just gotta lift you up and get you more confident,” Bryan added. “You just need to own it.”

Bryan, Richie and Perry unanimously voted an emotional Russell to Hollywood to advance on this season of American Idol. Russell, who thought of her grandmother during the audition, said she was “very grateful.”

Russell’s family congratulated her on Lynn’s Twitter account. The family wrote in a tweet on Thursday (February 22): “The long held secret is out! Our Emmy Russell is on this season of American Idol. She’s special. Loretta passed her guitar to Emmy and a piece of her faith and spirit, as well. She always said ‘She’s got it’ about Emmy. We know she does!”

Watch Russell’s audition here: