Auto-Tuned or authentic? St. Petersburg teen Emma Robinson's video checks out

Watch Emma Robinson singing Stay at
Watch Emma Robinson singing Stay at
Published July 10, 2013

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, hopes 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."

Craig Ferguson bringing standup show to Palladium

Craig Ferguson, the charming comedian with the thick Scottish brogue who has helmed The Late Late Show on CBS since 2005, is bringing his standup comedy tour to the Palladium in downtown St. Petersburg on Nov. 18.

Ferguson had already found fame before his late-night success, most notably for playing obnoxious British boss Nigel Wick on the Drew Carey Show. But his absurdist comedy and unorthodox interviewing style — he often rips up cue cards and prepared questions before interviews and refuses to see whatever movie an actor is coming on to promote — have made him a YouTube favorite.

Tickets go on sale Saturday at noon. Make a decision soon, because Ferguson sold out his last performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall in 2010. Tickets are $55-$85 and will be available at the Ruth Eckerd Hall box office, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road in Clearwater, or by calling (727) 791-7400 or at — Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer

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Bonnie Raitt returning

Ruth Eckerd Hall gives us somethin' to talk about with the announcement that Grammy award winner Bonnie Raitt will return in concert Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $50-$100.50, and go on sale Saturday at noon at the venue's box office or online at

Raitt returns to Ruth Eckerd Hall for the first time since her sold-out performance in 2009. Since then, she collected her tenth Grammy award for her 2012 release Slipstream. Opening for Raitt is Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paul Brady. — Times staff writer


• Howard Stern sidekick and standup comic Artie Lange is coming to the Mahaffey Theater on Sept. 28. Tickets are $32.50-$65, and they go on sale Friday.

• We've got an update on news that the Weeknd is coming to the Straz Center in Tampa Sept. 26: Tickets to the show start at $48.50, and will go on sale Friday.

• The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is stepping up its celebrity game with its new summer club and pool party series, Hard Rock Heatwave. The lineup: The Cataracs (July 12), KayJay (July 19), Kendra Wilkinson (July 26), DJ Scene (Aug. 2), Mario Lopez (Aug. 9), the Pussycat Dolls' Kaya Jones (Aug. 16), and more. The pool parties are free, but prices for individual events vary.