Emmy Russell Honors Late Grandmother Loretta Lynn With Emotional Tribute

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Emmy Russell reimagined one of her legendary grandmother’s most well-known hits on American Idol.

Russell, 25, a singer-songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee, honored her late grandmother, Loretta Lynn, with a stunning rendition of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Russell shared that she felt “an instant sadness” upon seeing the song choice — which she later discovered was a choice by American Idol judge Katy Perry — as she remembered her “Memaw.” Lynn “passed away peacefully…in her sleep” the morning of October 4, 2022 at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. She was 90.

“It’s my grandma’s song. You cant get much closer to the heart than your own blood,” Russell said as she explained that singing from the heart is a priority to her. She added as she looked ahead to the performance: “I need to be proud that I am a granddaughter of Loretta Lynn. …I’m proud to be a coal miner’s great granddaughter.”

Russell sat at a piano and delivered a heartfelt rendition of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Her parents sat in the audience, and her mother, Patsy Lynn, wiped tears from her eyes following her daughter’s performance. Perry also fought back tears as she told the rising artist: “I chose this song, not because Loretta Lynn is your grandma. I chose this song because you are Emmy Russell, and you can do anything now as Emmy Russell.”

Russell earned a unanimous “yes” vote to Hollywood when she auditioned for the show in front of Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan with an original song about an eating disorder. Russell shared on an episode of the Biscuits & Jam podcast earlier this month that Lynn’s bravery inspired her to write powerful music.

“Memaw was a little bit too truthful sometimes,” Russell said on the podcast. “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,” Russell continued. “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.”

Watch Russell perform “Coal Miner’s Daughter” here: