BEL AIR — “American Idol” hopeful Emma Kleinberg has been singing since before she can even remember.
“I remember old home videos my parents would show me of me singing around the house and just having a good time doing that,” she said.
Now, the Bel Air native will be on TV screens across the country after she auditioned for “American Idol” in October. Audiences can tune in to ABC Channel 2 (WMAR) at 8 p.m. Monday, March 18, to watch the episode her audition is featured in.
Kleinberg recalls watching the children’s talent competition show “Star Search” when she was 6 years old and asking her parents how she could become a performer like the kids she saw on her television. Upon her request, they signed her up for voice and piano lessons at the Maryland Conservatory of Music’s John Carroll School when she was 7 or 8 years old.
Kleinberg went on to study music and songwriting at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. After graduating in December, she stayed in the Music City to continue her singing career.
“I think that this is the place where I definitely want to lay down roots,” she said. “I love Bel Air so much. I grew up there, born and raised, and I’ll always come back to play music. But the amount of collaboration that I’ve been able to do in Nashville has sort of been what’s kept me here.”
Kleinberg describes her musical style as “soulful, singer-songwriter and music that you would want to listen to while you’re driving in the car on a summer day. Kind of relaxing but also has a lot of soul and R&B influences as well.”
She said some of her major musical influences are soulful singers like John Mayer, Allen Stone, Alicia Keys, as well as singers with “beachy, summer feelings” like Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat and Jack Johnson.
This isn’t Kleinberg’s first time venturing into the singing competition world — she has auditioned for “American Idol,” “The Voice,” and “The X Factor,” previously.
After multiple unsuccessful attempts, she said she wasn’t sure if a TV competition was the way for her to get where she wanted to go in her musical career.
But when “American Idol” reached out to a friend of a friend and asked Kleinberg to audition for the show, she found herself being drawn back toward the musical arena.
“I tossed and turned about whether or not I wanted to give it a shot again because I wasn’t sure how I felt about reality TV. But I was like ‘You know what, I’m just going to try it,’ and it ended up being such an amazing experience,” she said.
The night before the audition, Kleinberg and her friend Sam, who was going to play guitar for her during the audition, drove from Nashville to Louisville, Ky., where the audition was being held.
They got to Louisville around 1 a.m. and had to wake up at 5 a.m. to wait for the auditions, but Kleinberg said the early morning wait and freezing cold weather were all worth it because her family and friends were there to support her.
“They could not be more supportive,” said Kleinberg, who added that her mother, father and brother are all musically talented as well. “If anyone has ever had any doubts about what I’m doing with my life, it’s me. They’re the ones to direct me back and be like ‘This is what you love. Keep chasing it.’ In every sense of the word, they have supported me and they show up to everything with smiles on their faces.”
While waiting in line for her turn to audition, Kleinberg said she got to meet fellow contestants who she said were “the coolest people.”
“While you’re sitting there, you meet other like-minded musicians from all walks of life,” she said. “That was really amazing to meet such a wide variety of people who share the same love of music. It was all worth it because we made the best of our time while we waited.”
When it was finally her turn to sing in front of judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, Kleinberg was awestruck.
“It was so surreal seeing those celebrity judges that I have looked up to forever. It felt like I was in a virtual reality … It was such an overwhelming, out-of-body experience that I just made myself believe they’re not real. It was only afterward, when I said thank you and gave them each a handshake or a hug, that I was like ‘What the heck. You guys are real. This is crazy.’”
Kleinberg chose to sing “American Privilege” by Allen Stone for her audition.
“That song really captures the essence of what I would like to be as an artist,” she said. “The lyrics are extremely real ... I always look for that in music and that’s the kind of style that I like to write.”
Although she isn’t allowed to say whether she made it to the next round of the competition, Kleinberg said the judges did give her some good notes on her singing.
“Being able to get feedback from them was incredible,” she said. “I think criticism in general makes us better at whatever it is we love to do, but receiving that criticism from people that have been in the industry for so long and have been so successful was definitely amazing. I keep what they said with me.”
Kleinberg said she feels privileged to be able to represent Bel Air — and all of Maryland — on the show.
“I just feel so supported and excited to represent the small, little town,” she said. “It’s a huge privilege to represent the people who helped raise me … Thank you guys for the encouragement and the support. I will literally never take for granted everyone I have met from back home and in general. Everybody helps me to remember each day that I’m doing this because I love it and that’s what it’s always been about.”