Auto-Tuned or authentic? St. Petersburg teen's cover of Rihanna's 'Stay' goes viral
A rising junior at St. Petersburg High School is experiencing the highs and lows of viral fame.
Emma Robinson, 16, has watched the Internet flock to a video of her playing piano and singing a cover of Rihanna’s Stay. She uploaded the video on July 3, and after her boyfriend posted it to Reddit (without her knowledge, she notes), it made it to the site’s front page and took off. The Huffington Post and MSN both featured her, and celebrities like Chris Daughtry and Halestorm singer Lizzy Hale tweeted links to the video.
“I’m really shocked, because before this picked up, I only had like 600 subscribers. Now I have 7,000-something,” Emma said. “It’s weird because half the people are really nice, but half the people are really rude about it, or say it’s Auto-Tuned.”
Ah, yes: Her voice. Emma’s vocal lilt is a spot-on match for the pitch-modulation software made famous by T-Pain and other pop stars. YouTube commenters and other insta-critics say there’s no way that can be her real voice. But she says she’s been singing her whole life without voice lessons, and that’s just how she sings.
“I’d say it’s a variation of yodeling or Celtic-type singing. It brings back those old Irish (songs),” she said. “I don’t know how I got it; I just can’t sing without it.”
Emma comes from a musical family; her father, Steve Robinson, is a well-known singer and guitarist who played in the popular Tampa Bay band Headlights alongside renowned local producer Steve Connelly. The group toured with the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and even played on The Tonight Show.
She said that beyond her friends, family and the media, a few people have reached out to her through YouTube about possible recording opportunities, “but it’s really hard to know if they’re legitimate or not.” Her dad, she said, hope she'll sing for his label, Sunshine Drenchy.
For now, though, she’s just plotting her next video.
“I know I’m going to upload something pretty soon; I just haven’t thought of what song yet,” she said. “I’m trying to think of a way I can prove that it’s not Auto-Tuned. It’s really hard to prove it, but if there is a way, I’m going to try to think of something.”
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*