'American Idol': Loretta Lynn's Granddaughter Auditions With Emotional Original Song

The 24-year-old singer reflected on an eating disorder and growing up on the tour bus in her show debut.

Loretta Lynn's legacy lives on. The country music icon's granddaughter, Emmy Russell, made a stunning debut on American Idol's season 22 premiere on Sunday. 

The soft-spoken 24-year-old performed a moving original song about an eating disorder titled "Skinny," drawing an emotional reaction from Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie

At the start of her audition, Emmy initially played down the familial connection, mentioning only that she grew up on a tour bus with a country singer grandmother. When asked by Bryan to name the performer, she simply replied, "Loretta Lynn," leaving all three judges visibly gobsmacked. 

"Your grandma is," Richie began, before coughing and clearing his throat. "What?!" 

"Oh wow," a wide-eyed Perry joined in. 

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In a pre-taped package, Emmy took the audience inside Loretta Lynn's Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, where her mother -- Patsy Russell, one-half of the singing duo The Lynns alongside her twin sister, Peggy Lynn -- grew up. 

"She's one of the biggest country music singers of all time but to me she's just my grandma," Emmy said of the "Coal Miner's Daughter" singer. "Growing up on the bus and all that was very normal to me." 


After singing her own heartwrenching song at the piano for the judges, she scored a ticket to Hollywood. 

"You are an A+ songwriter," Perry gushed. "So is your grandma. You got the gift." 

She continued, "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." 

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Backstage, Patsy was asked why she thought Emmy was so nervous about the performance. 

"She just wanted to do this honestly," the 59-year-old replied. "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." 

Lynn, who scored over a dozen No. 1 hit singles and sold more than 45 million albums worldwide during a career that spanned six decades, died on Oct. 4, 2022, at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. She was 90. Her family said in a statement to ET that she was "surrounded by her loving family" at the time of her death. 

"Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills," the family said, asking for privacy while they take time to grieve. 

Lynn left an indelible mark in the music world, with hits like "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl" in 1960 and the iconic 1969 track "Coal Miner's Daughter." She was born in 1932 in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, and was the daughter of Ted Webb, a coal miner. Her story served as the inspiration to the track and the 1976 autobiography of the same name.

The book was later adapted into the acclaimed 1980 biographical film, in which Lynn was portrayed by Sissy Spacek, who won an Oscar for her performance.

Lynn would ultimately be inducted in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She won her fourth GRAMMY in 2010 when she was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and that same year President Barack Obama presented her with the highest civilian award in the United States with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Her death sent a ripple effect around the world, with today's country stars pouring in with tributes. Dolly Parton, Blake Shelton and Reba McEntire were among the slew of stars who paid tribute to Lynn.


On Sunday, Richie remarked on Emmy's "promise" during the audition. 

"Each one of us is trying to battle something that we're trying to overcome," he said. "In your case, you have big shoes. Now if I could just get you to put those shoes back in the closet, that's not your size."

Bryan added, "We just gotta lift you up and get you more confident." 

American Idol airs Sunday at 8 p.m. PT/ET on ABC.


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