Emmy Russell Shares How Loretta Lynn's Bravery Empowered Her To Write Music

Photo: Getty Images

Emmy Russell thinks she’s “completely different” than her legendary grandmother, the late Loretta Lynn, whom she lovingly remembers as “Memaw.” But after receiving some feedback about the vulnerable original ballad she performed during her American Idol audition, Russell believes there are some ways she and her “Memaw” might be more alike than she realized.

Russell, 25, spoke with Southern Living Editor-in-Chief Sid Evans on the latest episode of Biscuits & Jam. The new podcast episode made its debut on Tuesday morning (April 9). The Hurricane Mills, Tennessee-born singer-songwriter grew up joining Lynn on tour and performing with her. Russell’s original song that she performed for the panel of celebrity judges at her American Idol audition — Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan — earned her a unanimous “yes” vote to Hollywood and praise as an “A+ songwriter.”

Russell performed “Skinny,” a deeply personal and emotional song about an eating disorder. She said during her audition she wants to “own” her voice and “challenge myself.” Since performing “Skinny” during her audition, which aired earlier this year, Russell said comments have made her realize one way she might be more like her late grandmother than she thought. Lynn “passed away peacefully…in her sleep” the morning of October 4, 2022 at her beloved Hurricane Mills ranch. She was 90.

“Memaw was a little bit too truthful sometimes. I think that that's what gave me the ammunition to write a song like ‘Skinny.’ I think I'm completely different than my grandma, but someone commented and said, ‘You're so much like her, because that was such a gutsy song to sing just like so many songs in her time were so gutsy.’ I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ Maybe she gave me a little truth gene. But was it scary for her like it is for me? I think probably a little less for her. She's very brave.

“I would have never thought, ‘Hey, you're gonna be on American Idol, and you're gonna sing a song about your eating disorder that you're suffering with right now. And yeah, they're gonna say that you're also related to Loretta Lynn.’ I showed up to my audition with no makeup on, and I played my most vulnerable song. I think I can just be myself, and I'm really excited that I can just be myself. And being ordinary, and not changing everything about yourself to look like you're from Hollywood - it works, and people resonate,” Russell said on the podcast of her audition. She also remembered a word of advice her grandmother once gave to her about performing: ““While performing I would sing one song everyone knew, which was ‘If I Die Young’ [by The Band Perry]. And then I'd sing an original song. Memaw always told me to do that 'cause everyone wants to sing along with you. But then if you want to share your heart, do that too, but not too much. That's her advice. And then I sang ‘If I Die Young,’ and everyone loved whenever I sang that song. But yeah, I was like, 11 years old.”

Biscuits & Jam includes conversations with musicians, chefs and others, delving into food and music that become staples of Southern culture. The podcast has previously featured interviews with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, Charles Esten, Brittney Spencer, Dolly Parton, Wynonna Judd and many others. Find it on iHeartRadio here.