In a lot of ways, Emma Bailey is a lot like other teenage girls. The Herndon High School junior spends her time when she is not in school doing homework, watching American Idol, hanging out with friends and her boyfriend and lending a hand around her mom’s gardening company in Great Falls over the summer.
But not many 16-year-olds have seen their name in lights at Washington’s RFK Stadium while singing the national anthem in front of more than 10,000 fans at a DC United Major League Soccer game. And even less of them can say that they have done that at the age of 14.
"It was really cool to see my name glowing in lights and the whole team standing behind me as I sang," Emma Bailey said. "It was a real memorable moment."
But Bailey’s performances aren’t confined just to openings of sporting events. The high school vocalist performs regularly at Herndon area charity events, high school concerts and at Mediterranean Breeze restaurant in downtown Herndon twice a month. Singing acoustic covers of popular songs and as the lead vocalist in front of her father’s country band, the young performer has generated a lot of attention in Herndon, according to friends and community members. She just recently played for about 500 people at Herndon’s "Taste of the Town" fund-raiser.
"She always brings a real big crowd here, we always have a lot of people who show up when she comes in," said Alex Rojas, general manager of Mediterranean Breeze. "It’s local, and we can see where she’s going, so it’s great at this time to see her here in her town, we’re all very proud of her."
Just like many aspiring entertainers throughout the country, Emma Bailey someday hopes to make it big and be able to sing for living. And like nearly every one who has ever attempted to make it in show business, she knows that the road will be a long and difficult one.
ORIGINALLY BORN in Stafford, England, Bailey came to the United States with her parents in 1997 and settled in Herndon. A touch of her original English accent still peaks through when she speaks.
With a father who played guitar and a family who loves music, she grew up with a desire to sing and perform for large crowds, she said.
"I always loved to sing and I love music, but I didn’t actually think that I would get into it until I got a little older," said Emma Bailey, cooling down with a bottle of water after finishing a set of classic cover songs at last month’s Taste of the Town fund-raiser.
Coming up through elementary and middle school, Emma Bailey started becoming more involved with school plays and musicals and in turn became more interested to sing with her father’s band.
"To be honest, when I first got into a band locally, I did it for me … to give me an interesting hobby," said her father, Rob Bailey, a telecom worker. "Then all of a sudden she started to show up more and more and we started to sing with her and it wasn’t long until we came to realize that she’s very good."
AT A HERNDON Optimist Club-sponsored contest in 2004, Emma Bailey first came to the attention of homegrown Herndon singer, 24-year-old Katy Benko, with an "amazing" rendition of the 1960s Diana Ross classic "My Guy."
"The very first time I saw her, I knew there was something special about her," said Benko. "She loves to sing, you can tell that about her, she has such a passion for performing."
Benko, a modern country singer who has toured throughout the United States, quickly became Emma Bailey’s voice coach, working with her to perfect her sound and offering her the guidance towards being a performer. She took to it like a fish to water, Benko said.
"Her progress was so quick, whenever I would tell her to do something she would catch on right away," Benko said. "As her progress continued, her confidence grew and she just blossomed into not just an amazing singer but an amazing performer."
After a summer of listening to her older sister playing country music, the English-born girl fell in love with the distinctly American music, leading her to mostly concentrate on performing it.
"It’s the kind of music where you can really do anything with it," she said. "You can do the real twangy traditional kind of country or you can take it down slower and do your own thing."
In time, Emma Bailey started performing for more crowds in Herndon and has come to the attention of more and more residents, according to lead singer local country rock band "Flatbroke" and Herndon-area resident Buzz Rider, who has known Emma Bailey since she arrived from England.
"This girl would blow everyone on American Idol away," Rider said. "She’s got the voice, she’s got the look, she’s got the talent, she is one of the best singers I’ve ever seen."
WHILE SHE HOPES to one day make it big as a singer, Emma Bailey said that she knows that the road to stardom is often a challenging and perilous one, and she is planning accordingly.
When it comes to future college plans, Emma Bailey is being more practical than risky. She is looking to major in a traditional career field as opposed to focusing entirely on music, so that she can work as a professional doing something else, provided she doesn’t end up making it in the music industry, she said.
Nonetheless, she plans on traveling soon with her father to play the legendary country venues of Nashville, Tenn., as she tries to stoke up more nationwide attention.
Emma Bailey definitely has all the tools to make it, according to Benko.
"She definitely has the talent, but unfortunately as I have come to learn, in today’s music industry it’s not always about the talent," she said. "It’s a tough business, but once that is in your blood, you just have to do it and continue singing until something happens."
While Rob Bailey said that he hopes to one day see his daughter as a big-time singer and is proud of everything his daughter has accomplished up until this point, he said he has been most satisfied with all of the time he has gotten to spend with her while the two perform in Herndon together.
"She can get up there and do her thing and do it well, and I’m so proud every time I see her up on stage," he said. "But how many guys get to do this sort of thing with their daughters and spend all this time together?"
"That’s really the best thing on my end. Getting to spend time with my daughter, doing something we both love."