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Bel Air's Emma Kleinberg gets ticket to Hollywood on 'American Idol'

A group of close friends sit riveted to the televison along with Allen and Kim Kleinberg at their Bel Air home Monday evening as they watch their daughter Emma's performance on American Idol.
A group of close friends sit riveted to the televison along with Allen and Kim Kleinberg at their Bel Air home Monday evening as they watch their daughter Emma's performance on American Idol. (Matt Button / The Aegis)

Emma Kleinberg is “going to Hollywood.”

The 2015 John Carroll School graduate, who grew up in Bel Air, sang “American Privilege” by Allen Stone for her “American Idol” audition that aired Monday night on ABC.

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Kleinberg’s parents, Allen and Kim, watched from their Bel Air home as their daughter belted out the song before judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.

“I gotta be honest, she’s probably one of the best ones we’ve heard today,” Perry told Kleinberg after she was finished.

Kleinberg is one of about 200 from the tens of thousands of people who auditioned to make it to Hollywood, where she will again compete to make it to the live shows, which begin April 15, Allen Kleinberg said.

Kleinberg’s parents and her brother Alex were with Emma in Louisville, Kentucky, when the audition was recorded in October, but weren’t able to hear the audition — producers kept asking questions while she sang.

“The cameras were right in our face. I could hear her every couple of notes, and I thought ‘She sounds on pitch,’” Allen said.

There was lots of joking before Emma appeared — “Look at me, there I am!” said Allen, who was seen in the background of an interview with another performer. “There I am again,” he said.

The whole process, from the audition to the interview at home, was emotionally draining, he said.

The teaser for Emma’s audition called hers “one of the most emotional stories” viewers would hear.

Her brother Alex, now 24, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attempted suicide in November 2017 and suffered a brain injury.

“It was the most heart-breaking moment of my life, and I knew life would never be the same,” Emma said. “There’s no part of me that’s mad at him, no part that thought it was a selfish decision. I’m really sad for the old Alex, the Alex I grew up with, but the new Alex is amazing and I’m falling in love with him every day.”

Since the attempt, Alex been recovering slowly, their mother Kim said, and this week began Electroconvulsive therapy.

ECT is a procedure in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure, which seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental health conditions, according to www.mayoclinic.org.

Alex can comprehend but has difficulty processing information, Kim said.

“He is just my rock, spiritually, and he’s been through a really, really tough year,” Emma said during the profile of her and her family. “This opportunity came at a time our lives need uplifting stuff.”

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Kim and Allen were glued to the television and the house fell quiet as they listened to their daughter sing.

“It was awesome,” Kim said.

“She was free. She was not holding back, she felt it,” Allen added.

The judges agreed.

From Luke Bryan: “You showed us everything. When we didn’t think you had something else, you sprinkled a little more on. You cannot showcase yourself any better, in my opinion.”

And Lionel Richie? “You can’t teach confidence. You can’t teach it. We felt comfortable for you, and the more you kept singing the more we felt comfortable. After a point where we just started enjoying the show.”

Emma told the judges her dream is to play a concert on the beach and “just sing my soul off.”

“There are really good beaches in Los Angeles, more toward Marina del Ray,” Perry said. “They’re not that great in Hollywood but … you’re still going!”

Alex was all smiles when Emma emerged from her audition and hugged her brother before anyone else.

“When I saw him smiling, that was just a year of sadness brought to healing,” Emma said. “It affirmed to me in every sense of the word I’m in the right place.”

Kim Kleinberg, left, and her husband Allen, right, talk through Facetime with their daughter Emma after watching her performance on American Idol during a watch party with some close friends at their Bel Air Home Monday evening.
Kim Kleinberg, left, and her husband Allen, right, talk through Facetime with their daughter Emma after watching her performance on American Idol during a watch party with some close friends at their Bel Air Home Monday evening. (Matt Button / The Aegis)

After her portion of the audition was over, Emma, who watched Monday with friends from her home in Nashville, Tennesse, talked with her parents and the several close family and friends, as well as the family dog, gathered in the family room to watch.

“We’re all crying,” Kim said. “It was awesome. You killed it, Emma!”

They blew kisses through the phone and exchanged “I love you.”

After they hung up, Kim said that through the whole ordeal with Alex, Emma has been “the most amazing piece.”

“Her light, her ability to put it all in perspective,” Kim said.

Then they watched her again, this time with a few comments thrown in — “I love her dress,” and “That lipstick really makes the outfit.”

Emma had reached a point where it wasn’t her dream anymore to be a professional singer, Kim said. But it did reaffirm for her that she wants to perform, regardless of the venue.

Her parents couldn’t hide their smiles.

Regardless of how far Emma gets in the competition, her parents said they are proud of her.

“The kids she meets, they’ll be friends forever, make music together forever,” Kim said.

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