One young woman from Waxahachie has gained national fame for singing cover songs in a parking garage after becoming an American Idol reject. Emma Oliver, 21, now has more clarity than ever before on what she can achieve through her music.
At 16, she sang her way onto the Dallas music scene at an open mic night at Drugstore Cowboy in Deep Ellum.
“I had only played one song, and the manager came up to me and asked if I wanted to play an actual show,” Oliver remembers. “So I ended up doing that.”
She had, after all, been singing long before the Drugstore Cowboy performance.
"I’ve been actually singing since I was little. … I just sang everywhere," Oliver says. "Taught myself how to play guitar and piano so I was just doing that all day, every day.”
Her soulful sound is intertwined with her soulful upbringing. Oliver was drawn to a lot of the music that her grandmother would play while cooking. As Oliver got older, she said she got accustomed to picking out CDs to play and records to spin from her grandmother’s collection.
“I have a lot of soul, so I like B.B. King and a lot of the stuff from the '60s," Oliver says.
That same emotional energy can be heard in her music. Oliver says the soul music she grew up with became therapeutic for her. Still, you can’t just stuff her into a single genre.
Oliver often covers artists like Miguel, Chris Stapleton and Sam Smith. Most of her cover songs she posts on YouTube fall into the soulful R&B area. But those videos are just a taste of her sound.
“I find myself in a happy medium of indie-pop-R&B, with that soul kind of flair to it,” Oliver says.
The singer says she noticed her cover songs started trending on Twitter around the time she started posting them. She was looking for a way to gain some attention, she says, and her ability allowed for her to stand out from the crowd.
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Many of her cover videos are shot in an old parking garage near a Mexican restaurant that Oliver would frequent with her family. The garage's lighting mixed with the music creates an inviting environment.
Even though she didn’t make the cut for American Idol, Oliver says that the show validated her feelings toward her music. Instead of curling up in a corner and crying about not making the cut, she walked away with further confidence and determination.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t get through, but it was such a great opportunity and it was something that I needed to experience," Oliver says of Idol. "It taught me a lot on how to be better, focus on my music and become more serious.”
Fans have patiently been waiting for some Emma Oliver originals. Her last original song was posted on her SoundCloud account in 2017. Some fans have also been nagging Oliver, because the headline of her Instagram page reads: “I write songs, you just haven’t heard em yet.”
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Oliver doesn't want to speak too much about what she is working on, but she sums it up with the words, “A lot.” Mostly, working with a lot of cool people, writing and creating great music.
The artist describes her writing process as “weird,” drawing inspiration from not just her life, but from life itself.
“It’s one of those things where I’ll use everything around me," she says. "It could be two people on the street, and I could make up this whole entire story about these people. … Just by the way that they look, aesthetics and body language.”
Oliver’s most significant recent performance was at the Granada Theater for Girls Club, a concert that celebrated women in Dallas music. Her ability to remain relevant without flooding airwaves speaks to her talent. And as she continues to compile a list of records that will make up the sound on her first album, her fans will have to wait for the next piece of Oliver's soul.