Emma Kleinberg of Bel Air stands in front of the stage in Aulani Disney resort in Kapolei, Hawaii, where she competed as one of the top 40 contestants on "American Idol."
Emma Kleinberg of Bel Air stands in front of the stage in Aulani Disney resort in Kapolei, Hawaii, where she competed as one of the top 40 contestants on "American Idol." (Courtesy Kim Kleinberg / Baltimore Sun)

Emma Kleinberg of Bel Air isn’t going to be the next American Idol — and she is OK with that.

In an episode that aired Sunday night, Kleinberg was among the half of the 40 contestants who did not move on to the top 20.


During that show, in which she performed Bob Marley’s “Is this Love?” Kleinberg sang on the beach at Aulani Disney resort in Kapolei, Hawaii — just as she said in her Louisville audition was her dream.

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 in October that aired Monday night on ABC.

“Being on that stage that night, there are no words for it. I’ve never felt so at peace doing anything,” Kleinberg said. “I don’t care what happens or why it happens, but it was everything I’ve ever wanted in a performance and in life.”

It gave her a taste for what it would be like if one day she were doing her own concert on the beach, singing her own songs and the crowd singing along.

In Hawaii, the contestants worked with Bobby Bones, a radio host in Nashville, and comedy group The Raging Idiots.

Those performances are half comedy and half music, and Bones was so surprised Kleinberg was eliminated he immediately contact her about joining him.

Bones tweeted: "well, I was shocked that @ekleinbergmusic didn't make it through on americanidol. so shocked that I offered her a job playing/singing with my band immediately. She will be with us in Bakersfield and more!”

Kleinberg will be performing with Bobby Bones and the Raging Idiots in Bakersfield, California, April 13 in front of 5,000 to 10,000 people.

“I’ve never played for that many people before, that’s going to be crazy,” she said.

Kleinberg will be playing piano for Bones and will get to sing one of her original songs as well as some of her favorite covers.

What comes after Bakersfield is uncertain, but Bones said he would be in touch about other days for the summer and fall.

“He said, ‘If all goes well, I’d like to keep doing music together.’ I was like, ‘Yes, please!’” Kleinberg said. “To be connected to someone with so many connections to some of my favorite artists is incredible.”

Kleinberg didn’t think she’s get past the first round, let alone make the top 40.

“I really am so happy with how everything went. I’m not disappointed really at all,” Kleinberg said. “I feel like it really helped me grow and people are listening to my music. It really put me on the map.”

Besides the professional contact and exposure, Kleinberg also made some lifelong friends, including contestant Kate Barnette, who recently moved in with Kleinberg in Nashville.


Kleinberg’s parents, Kim and Allen, were surprised, especially since they were told Emma was a shoe-in to move on.

“Being a parent, of course, you hurt for your child. But she’s such a gracious child and understanding. She handled it so well,” Kim Kleinberg said. “We’re so appreciative of the opportunity Idol gave her to launch her career.”

Kleinberg will be releasing her own music soon, she said.

The best thing about Kleinberg’s “American Idol” experience, though, was the chance to share her story about her brother, she said.

“So many people reached out, after hearing Alex’s story,” Kleinberg said. “I hope it helps them feel less along with their journey with mental illness, family members who struggle with mental illness. It’s a really important conversation and Idol helped me put it out there.”

Kleinberg’s older brother, Alex, attempted suicide in November 2017 and “it’s a miracle that he’s alive,” she said on the show. “This time last year was a really dark time for my family. This whole ‘American Idol’ experience has just brought a lot out of him.”

Alex and Emma’s parents, Allen and Kim, were in Hawaii for her performance.

“It was so incredible to have [Alex] there,” she said.

Since the Hawaii trip, Alex has started ECT therapy, which can “cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental health conditions,” according to www.mayoclinic.org.

“He has been talking and eating and walking more. He’s improved so much more since what we saw in Hawaii,” Kleinberg said.

Emma Kleinberg took a chance during Hollywood Week on “American Idol” and it paid off – she made the top 40.

Even in Hawaii, Alex was making strides. They attended a Bible study together and prayed around a circle. When it came to Alex, he closed his eyes for a few minutes, then started praying “thank you God so much for this incredible experience, the opportunity,” Kleinberg said.

“I’m crying, all of us were just crying,” she said. “To have that moment, I don’t care what happens next to have him talk and express what he’s feeling, that was wonderful.”

Kleinberg never thought her musical career would be over if she didn’t win “American Idol,” she said.

“Whoever wins, big things happen, but more than that, God’s plan is so much bigger than I can imagine,” she said. “Every bit of rejection I ever got made ‘American Idol’ possible. This rejection can only lead to the next thing.

“I am very optimistic and excited for whatever is next.”