Loretta Lynn's Granddaughter Emmy Russell Says 'Out of Control' Eating Disorder Inspired Her Song 'Skinny' (Exclusive)

"I kind of grew up in the spotlight and so I was always very image-conscious," says Emmy Russell, who made Top 24 of this season's 'American Idol'

<p>Eric McCandless/Disney</p> Emmy Russell

Eric McCandless/Disney

Emmy Russell

Emmy Russell, granddaughter of the late country music legend Loretta Lynn, auditioned for this season of American Idol with a deeply personal original song called "Skinny" — and now she's made the Top 24.

The rising star opened up to PEOPLE about her struggle with disordered eating and how she was inspired to take that difficult experience and transform it into something beautiful with "Skinny."

While Russell's eating disorder began in high school, she was able to get it under control until several years later. It was on a mission trip to Brazil when she was 22 that Russell noticed something was going wrong again with her health.

"All of a sudden I started getting a little bit sick and I was like, 'Why am I not keeping any of my food down?' And I think a part of it was the eating disorder in high school, but then the damage that happens to your body and it just happened again," Russell, now 25, tells PEOPLE. "Then I started seeing results from me getting sick, and then it just spun out of control."

"I felt a lot of shame. I was like, 'I'm serving God. I'm in Brazil. Why is this coming back?'"

She realized she needed to return home to Nashville and, with the help of her mom, seek recovery.

Related: Loretta Lynn's Granddaughter Emmy Russell Tears Up as She Wows American Idol Judges with Emotional Audition

"I struggled a lot with physical beauty image pressures and social media. I kind of grew up in the spotlight and so I was always very image-conscious," Russell recalls.

But she realized she was not alone. "When I saw 80 or 70 million people struggle with eating, I was like, 'What? I'm not the only one. I need to sing about it.'"

With "Skinny," Russell learned that "you can only really succeed when you're truly yourself." The song helped her turn pain into beauty,

<p>Hubert Vestil/WireImage</p> Emmy Russell in Austin in April 2023

Hubert Vestil/WireImage

Emmy Russell in Austin in April 2023

"I showed up, no makeup, my red hair, my natural color. And just got on the piano and I was like, 'Oh, Emmy works. My true self is OK. People relate to that,'" she says.

She adds, "When I wrote 'Skinny,' I felt a weight of responsibility [and thought], 'I don't need to go back to this. I know it's bad for me.' And so the more that I sing it, it's almost like the more that I'm delivering myself and I'm like, 'Oh, OK. Now I got that feeling out. Now I am above it.' And so finding a creative outlet for all your pain and beauty. Beauty from ashes, that's music for me. It's like the ashes are the pain and I make something out of it."

Russell wrote the song when she was in recovery and decided to release it on Song House. It was there that the song went viral and she was contacted by someone who worked in casting for American Idol.

Related: All About Loretta Lynn's 26 Grandchildren — Including American Idol Contestant Emmy Russell

"I was scared a lot, so I think American Idol pushed me to be like, 'Oh, I can do this and people actually like me and they relate to my story,'" she says.

For anyone going through something similar, Russell says the best thing to do is "take a break for a second and talk about it." She also recommends "unplugging and unwinding" from your phone.

"I feel like talking about it is the best thing, tell your family, talk to a therapist. I feel like just talking about it is the first step," she says. "And realize that your beauty is deeper than skin. That's kind of my mantra is beauty's deeper than skin. It's who you are inside. What are you passionate about? Who are you? Who are you? You're not just this. This just carries your human experience."

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please go to NationalEatingDisorders.org.

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Read the original article on People.