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NPR Tiny Desk

Since 2008, NPR has hosted an eclectic range of artists in its Tiny Desk concert series—from superstars like Adele and Lizzo to Broadway casts and international bands. NPR launched the Tiny Desk Contest in 2015 to offer a chance for undiscovered artists to showcase their work at the eponymous desk. Several artists have emerged as contest winners to build impressive careers, such as Gaelynn Lea and Tank And The Bangas. Over time, NPR has worked to build the contest community by featuring entries on their website, social media, and newsletters. In 2020, NPR started the Top Shelf podcast with a rotating roster of contest judges selecting and discussing their favorite entries, sometimes bringing in the artists. Over the years, several Nebraska artists have entered the contest. This miniseries covers a few of those artists.

Emmy Jo. Photo by Detrick Cook. Credit: Detrick Cook

Emmy Jo (2021)

The Tiny Desk Contest is also a great opportunity for artists to challenge themselves. Emmy Jo had only been writing songs for a few years before entering the contest in 2021. Being a busy high school teacher, she only has time for music on the weekends and summertime—but the Tiny Desk Contest gave her the extra push to make her first music video.

In 2021, when the submission window opened, Emmy Jo and her fiancé were in New York for a wedding. Despite the tight turnaround, they made the deadline.

Emmy Jo, “Yellow Year.” NPR Tiny Desk Contest 2021 Entry.

“We watch so many Tiny Desks. It’s like a night-time ritual for us.”

Her fiancé booked her first recording session as a Christmas gift. “That was the push I needed to start making music,” she said. “[He’s my] super supportive partner in crime.”

The success of her first single “Is That Enough” encouraged her to keep pushing forward. With a sultry voice reminiscent of Sarah Bareilles and Adele, she navigates the space between singer-songwriter and soul. 

In her entry for the 2021 NPR Tiny Desk Contest, she sings about empowerment and finding happiness within herself: “I will be my own sunshine, I will make my own good time.”

Emmy Jo had just reached a breaking point in her life. She was newly single after the end of a long-term relationship. She said, “It got to the point where I was like, you know what, I’m not gonna find the kind of happiness I’m looking for in a relationship or another person. That kind of happiness is found within myself.”

She was singing and crying in her car when the words came to her: “No one can ever be sad when they’re wearing yellow.”

For Emmy Jo, music is about release. She writes songs when she is experiencing something difficult that she doesn’t want to shoulder on her own. Sometimes, that puts a pause on her music. When she met her fiancé, she was happy at last—but didn’t know what else to say.

Because her songwriting journey started shortly before the pandemic, she has not yet had opportunities to perform live. She said this is her summer of diving in. She also plans to record an EP this summer—and potentially a new music video for “Yellow Year,” the same song she performed for the Tiny Desk Contest.

“When it comes out, it will be full circle for me.”


Subscribe to The Reader Newsletter

Our awesome email newsletter briefing tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Omaha. Delivered to your inbox every day at 11:00am.

Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to thereader.com and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

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