Bel Air native Emma Kleinberg can’t remember a time when she wasn’t singing, and her talent will be put to the test Monday night when her audition for “American Idol” airs on ABC.
“My earliest memories involved me singing and always loving it,” Kleinberg said. “I felt so understood whenever music was involved. I just knew in whatever I do, it be music.”
After graduating from John Carroll School in 2015, Kleinberg attended Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she graduated in December with a degree in commercial music.
While she can’t say how she did before the show airs — the audition was recorded in Louisville, Kentucky, in October — she did say she thinks the audition went really well.
“Going into it, I said regardless of what comes out of it, I’m getting a chance to sing in front of Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan,” Kleinberg said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to be able to stand in front of them and sing, because I really look up to them.”
Larry Hensley, Kleinberg’s counselor and theater teacher for four years at John Carroll, said she is “gifted, a true talent.”
“You’re drawn to her. She has a glow — you want to watch her, you want to listen to her,” Hensley said. “And she’s one who rallies the troops, she wants to help everyone, even the ones who didn’t make the audition. That’s the way she was in high school, people enjoy being around Emma.”
Kleinberg said the audition experience was overwhelming, but amazing, although the process was a lot of “hurry up and wait.”
Her family was there along with one of her best friends.
“We just made a fun day out of it and met some really cool people,” she said.
Growing up in Bel Air, Kleinberg remembers watching shows like “Star Search,” and seeing teenagers like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears who she looked up to. She asked her mother if she could take voice lessons. She said yes and Kleinberg has been singing since.
Her experience in the musical theater department at John Carroll led her to Belmont.
“It’s an amazing community that shaped what I wanted to do,” Kleinberg said.
Since graduation , she’s been working at a restaurant and as a nanny, while playing music and writing as much as she can.
“I’m keeping myself busy and working on music, so no matter what happens, I have a lot of music to show for it and stuff to put out,” Kleinberg said.
She has stayed in Nashville because there’s “so much music here.”
But Kleinberg loves coming back to Maryland and playing shows. She tries to come back once a month “because all my people are there,” she said. “The atmosphere is so fun at the hometown bars.”
Monday’s audition isn’t her first for “American Idol.” She’s also tried out for “The Voice” and “X Factor.”
She wasn’t going to try out for this season, but “American Idol” reached out to a friend of a friend at Belmont. Through a series of connections, she was asked to audition.
“I was really thinking hard about it, and I thought when else in my life would I get the opportunity for someone to ask me to audition,” Kleinberg said. “And I said I’m going to go for it. I figured I might as well.”
Between auditions, Kleinberg she didn’t have to be the American Idol to be successful in music.
“Belmont helped me discover my love for songwriting, and it redefined what success looked like and that’s not necessarily fame or the American Idol winner,” Kleinberg said.
Songwriting, she said, is her therapy.
“I think songs connect us all and I think that’s beautiful,” she said. “That therapy for myself can be something so universal and also pay the bills, that I can do what I love, connect people to one another and make a living while doing it, that’s really awesome.”
No matter what she does in terms of a career, she wants to continue to perform.
“That’s a huge part of it for me,” Kleinberg said. “Stadium or bars, I’ll be so content if I’m making a steady living playing music and writing songs.”
And if she can travel while she’s doing it, even better.
She’s grateful to her parents, Kim and Allen Kleinberg, and her older brother, Alex, who have made Kleinberg’s dream possible.
“[My parents] have been so supportive since day one, they never questioned it,” Kleinberg said.
She’s also thankful for the people in Maryland who have supported her.
“I’ve always felt it and I feel so much love, encouragement and support,” she said.
Kim Kleinberg can’t wait to watch Monday’s audition.
“We’re so excited because we never saw the audition,” which she said they plan to watch at their home with a few friends.
“I’m just so happy for her, she deserves some good in her life right now,” Kleinberg said. “She’s just an amazing light. She has an incredible outlook on life and she’s so insightful.”
When to watch
What: American Idol auditions including Bel Air's Emma Kleinberg
When: 8 p.m. Monday, March 18
Where: ABC, Channel 2 (WMAR)