Emily Minor: Living a career in country music ten years after "American Idol" ("1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast)

Emily Minor: Living a career in country music ten years after "American Idol" ("1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast)
You can listen to previous episodes of the "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast by clicking on links inside this story. (Source: WECT)
You can listen to previous episodes of the "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast by clicking on links inside this story. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Emily Minor has belted out tunes and performed on stages since she was three-years-old. It doesn't matter that the first "stage" was actually the fireplace hearth in her parents' home. To a then wide-eyed, blonde-haired toddler, it was a place to sing. That desire has never gone away. Growing up in Wilmington, Emily joined choruses in elementary and middle school. At Laney High School, she was part of the ensemble that performed in front of an audience of thousands during the "Best Foot Forward" showcase. Simply put, Emily feels like she was born to sing.

"I joke that it's all I know how to do," Emily says. "I don't have many talents, but I know how to sing and be on stage. I've been doing it since I was a wee thing about three years old. I knew I loved it, and I knew I could do it, and I knew I was good at it because people told me I was good at it. I never thought it could be a real job. That's why I went to school (East Carolina University) to be a teacher."

By the mid-2000s, Fox's American Idol had become the most popular show on network television. Singers across the country would attend advertised regional tryouts, standing in line at times for hours for a chance at stardom. As a 19-year-old sophomore at ECU, with plenty of experience performing for family and friends, Emily gave some thought to the possibility of joining the crowd. 
"Everyone had always asked 'why don't you do this?' or 'have you done this?' and I never had an answer," she remembers. "I think that was it. Finally, someone asked and I thought 'I don't know why I haven't done it yet'. Okay, well obviously this show is going to have longevity, we're in the seventh year, and I don't really have an answer. So, let me just go and do it, and even if nothing pans out, I will have said 'well, I tried' or 'I did it'. I just called mom and said, 'let's do this, let's go to Charleston'."
Emily and her mom made the trip to South Carolina for the audition. Singing her favorite country music songs, Emily impressed the judges in Charleston, earning a highly sought-after Golden Ticket and the trip to Hollywood. In California, she competed for two rounds before being let go in favor of other singers that performed pop songs. Emily may not have come away with the notoriety that Idol finalists enjoyed, but she says she gained something much more important for her future.

"Of the entire experience, the most valuable thing I walked away with was going 'nope, I'm a country singer, I want to be in country music'," Emily says.

Emily decided to pursue a career in country music. She graduated from ECU in 2010, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee a few weeks later. Emily met and married guitarist John Speight, and they began playing clubs and festivals across the southeast. Emily released her self-titled debut EP of six original songs in 2012. She looks back at that time in her career at 16:00 of the podcast.
"I still love those songs, and I'm really proud of it," Emily says. "I really had no idea what I was doing, and with the second EP (2015's Something I Was Missing), I still didn't know what I was doing, and I've been out here doing it full-time for a while. My husband and I have talked about wanting to record again, and I was like 'you know what, if we did this I would be ready. I've done it twice now, I feel like third time is the charm. I would go in there, and I would be really confident and comfortable."
Having recently partnered with a new agency, Emily has concerts booked in Texas, Illinois and Colorado. Elevated Talent Group represents what Emily calls the "college market", opening doors to a new audience for her music. Emily says one of her biggest realizations was finding out there is a middle ground in the music industry, somewhere between super stardom and struggling to put food on the table. 
"It took meeting my husband, who had been doing it professionally for ten years before we got together, to learn you don't have to be playing the dirty, scuzzy bar, or be George Strait," she says. "There is a middle there, and that's what we're doing. We're not playing the "four-hour long for tips" kind of shows anymore, and we're not always playing arenas, either. I just never knew there was that middle ground."
Contrary to what many fans may believe, there is work to be done in a music career even when you're not on stage and performing. Emily says she carves out time every day for interaction with her fans on social media. She is very active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, posting inspirational messages or notes about upcoming shows. She also sets aside time every day to write lyrics or music. That's part of our conversation at 4:00 of the podcast.

"You know, I've really been blessed," Emily says about her full-time music career. "I'm not going to sugar-coat it, it has not been easy. I always say being a musician or a singer is not for sissies. It is really, really hard, just because you are working for yourself. You have to go out, you have to hustle, get those gigs, meet people. If you are not a people person, this business is not for you. You are responsible for your own paycheck, so if you're not playing, you're not making any money. It is hard. But I've been really blessed that I haven't had to have any part-time job or anything like that."

I've had the pleasure of interviewing Emily several times since her experience on American Idol. I've followed her career since it began, seen the headlines when she returns to play venues around Greenville and Wilmington, and read the reviews of her songs and EPs. We talked about a lot of other things for the podcast, including her favorite Emily Minor song that may soon be released as a single (hint: she wrote it about her home town). Emily also shared her thoughts on the country music star she admires most. I know you'll enjoy hearing her story in this podcast.

Click here to watch a story I did with Emily a short time after she appeared on American Idol.

You can listen to the entire interview with Emily Minor on the free "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast:

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