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Singing on the Big Stage with Psoriatic Disease

A teenager recounts her journey of overcoming the struggles of psoriatic arthritis to compete on American Idol.

The strength to continue striving for your dreams and goals in the face of adversity is something that many of us struggle with on a daily basis. But for 16-year-old Emma Grace Smith, of Wichita, Kansas, it comes naturally to her.

Diagnosed with both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis (PsA) at 7, she never let that get in the way of her passion: singing. Though her monthly treatment often leaves her feeling sick and fatigued, she continues practicing her craft and performing for local crowds. From a young age, she has been a regular at local monster truck rallies and baseball games, singing the national anthem for hundreds of fans.

Her biggest singing accomplishment to date came recently as she made it to Hollywood Week of this season’s “American Idol.” Her journey started last year when she won a local news contest for a guaranteed audition. Last summer she got her chance to shine in front of the three celebrity judges: Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie. After being passed over by Bryan and Richie, Perry saw something special in her and used her special “silver” ticket to advance Smith to the next round.

She recalls Hollywood Week being exhausting due to the combination of her medication and 18-hour days. Despite the long hours (and performing again for the judges with little sleep), her overall outlook on being a part of the show was positive and, even though she didn’t advance to the top 20, she says it was all worth it. 

“It was super fun, and it was a great experience on how to be confident with my singing. It really showed me a path to where I need to go next and what I need to work on with my singing," Smith says.

Back at home, Smith doesn’t allow her psoriatic disease to get in the way of her other hobbies, which include painting, crafting and playing sports. She also works two jobs, one as a babysitter and one as a lifeguard. She considers the second job more of a hobby.

Smith says that despite the soreness from her PsA (learn more about psoriatic arthritis by requesting a free guide) or the side effects of the medicine, her psoriatic disease became normal for her and never affected her life until she got into middle school and others started to notice it. “Someone pointed out my elbows in gym class, and I felt really insecure about that. I didn’t really want to show myself and avoided some clothing like dresses,” she says.

However, she says that she quickly got over those feelings with the help of her supportive family, which includes two older and one younger siblings, and, for the most part, it hasn’t gotten in the way of what she loves. She also says she’s been an example of the importance of not judging those who are different.

Smith does acknowledge that, despite wanting to always go on, she has to take periodic breaks. “The medicine that I take can make me really sick. So I lose my voice a lot. Also, because I have a higher level of getting sick on the medicine, I have to sometimes be careful around other people and crowds,” she says. “There’s a lot of days where it’s hard to stay focused or hard to even get up and go to work. But I have to power through. And at the end of the day, I find it’s all been rewarding.”

With Smith technically entering her senior year of high school (she takes her classes online at home, at her own pace), she has been weighing her career options. While music is her true passion, she also understands that it is an incredibly competitive field to thrive in. That’s why she’s setting her sights on both music and nursing for college.

And she says that “American Idol” hasn’t seen the last of her. “I’m definitely going back next year.”

[Editor's Note: Please note, this article was written prior to the pandemic.]

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