Emmy Russell was fairly timid at the start of her “American Idol” audition — to the extent that the judges had to ask her to repeat her name.

As the 25-year-old singer-songwriter from Nashville gradually opened up to the judges, the reason for her shyness came into focus: Russell is the granddaughter of country music legend Loretta Lynn.

The late Country Music Hall of Famer, who died at the age of 90 in 2022, was the first female country singer to win the Country Music Association’s entertainer of the year award and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, the Deseret News previously reported. Russell grew up singing with her grandmother and traveling on a tour bus, and since her grandmother’s death, she said people from all over the world come to see Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, outside of Nashville.

“She’s one of the biggest country music singers of all time, but to me, she’s just my grandma,” Russell said in a clip that aired on “Idol.”

But still, coming from a line of strong female performers — Russell is the great-niece of country singer Crystal Gale, and her mother, Patsy Lynn Russell (Lynn’s daughter), forms half of the duo The Lynns, per The Tennesseean — can make it a little intimidating to carve out your own path as an artist.

“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. “That’s why I want to challenge myself and come out here.”

Related
She’s from ‘the middle of nowhere,’ Utah — and she just got a ticket to Hollywood on ‘American Idol’

Emmy Russell auditions with original song, ‘Skinny’ on ‘American Idol’

For her “Idol” debut, Russell sat at the piano and performed her original song, “Skinny,” which explores themes of body image and a struggle with an eating disorder. The audition, which aired Feb. 25, already has more than 1 million views on YouTube.

As Russell performed, her mother stood outside the room and praised her daughter.

“I think that when you come from a musical family, the shadow is so big,” Patsy Russell said to the cameras. “How do I fill those shoes? Well the deal is you don’t. You make your own shadow.”

The “Idol” judges were all visibly moved by Russell’s performance and impressed with her songwriting abilities.

“You’re an A+ songwriter,” “Idol” judge Katy Perry said. “So was your grandma. You’ve 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.”

Perry encouraged Russell to speak up and say her name proudly — “We’ve just got to lift you up and get you more confident, and you just need to own it,” judge Luke Bryan added.

All three judges gave Russell an adamant “yes,” sending the singer-songwriter through to the next round of the competition in Hollywood. Russell was emotional as she received her golden ticket to Hollywood and reflected on her grandmother’s influence in her life.

“I think I’m more like her now than I was whenever I was trying to be like her,” she said after her audition.

More about Emmy Russell from ‘American Idol’

Although “American Idol” marks a big step forward in Russell’s career, the singer has appeared in other high-profile events. She was part of a star-studded tribute to her late grandmother that aired live on CMT from the Grand Ole Opry. For the tribute, Russell sang “Lay Me Down,” from the movie the “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” with Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson, per The Tennesseean.

She made her official debut at the Grand Ole Opry last year, with a song called “Memaw’s Guitar.”

“Loretta passed her guitar to Emmy and a piece of her faith and spirit, as well,” reads a post on Lynn’s official X account announcing Russell’s “Idol” audition. “She always said ‘She’s got it’ about Emmy. We know she does!”

“I use to run from my family heritage and wanna make my own path. I feel a deep conviction to thank, accept, and celebrate her, cause she believed in me from the start before anyone did,” Russell shared in an Instagram post following her Grand Ole Opry debut. “Not ashamed anymore. She was never ashamed of me… I’m a granddaughter, and I’m Emmy… it’s all apart of me! This is the start of a beautiful journey.”