DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Evita and "The X Factor" Star Rachel Potter

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Evita and "The X Factor" Star Rachel Potter
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Rachel Potter
Rachel Potter

Rachel Potter
A few weeks ago, I was in my kitchen putting away dishes when I heard some thrilling sounds coming from the TV, which happened to be turned to Fox TV's reality singing competition "The X Factor." I quickly made a dash to see who was the source of that powerful high belt and was surprised to recognize a familiar face, Rachel Potter, who was the vocal highlight of the recent revival of Evita, where she delivered a terrific version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "Another Suitcase in Another Hall." I was also surprised that no mention was made of Potter's theatrical credits, which also include the Broadway production of The Addams Family and the national tour of Wicked—Potter was simply described as a "bartender from Nashville." Turns out, Potter did discuss her theatre work with the show's judges and the enthusiastic crowd, but that part of her audition was left on the cutting-room floor. Last week, I had the pleasure of catching up with the multi-talented singing actress, not too long after it was announced that she had made the Top 12 of the singing competition. The gifted artist spoke about her decision to move to Nashville following the conclusion of the Evita revival, her road to "The X Factor" and her pride in being part of the Broadway community; that interview follows.

Question: Let's go back a bit. After Evita ended, where did you go from there?
Rachel Potter: Right after it closed, I moved to Nashville and started bartending pretty much immediately. It was crazy because I was at such a crossroads. I knew I really wanted to make my next move Nashville. What’s so awesome and also for someone who’s trying to do recording at the same time, is that Broadway offers these long contracts. So I was in a year-long contract with Evita, and there was a point where I felt like I’m getting older. I really needed to try this now before it’s too late. Because you know, in the recording arts industry, age really does matter. Broadway is so awesome because you can literally book your first show when you’re 50. Age is irrelevant for success on Broadway. But record companies want to sign people when they’re 16–21. And, a lot of people are like, "Carrie Underwood is 28, 29, and Katy Perry is that old." And, yeah, but they got signed 10 years ago. [Laughs.] So I just felt like I had to give it a shot before I couldn’t anymore.

Question: How did "X-Factor" come about? Do they approach you, or do you go to open auditions?
Potter: No, someone tweeted me the idea, and it planted a seed. I started getting a little curious and looking up when their auditions were. Once I had already moved, I came up to New York to do a reading a friend asked me to do of a musical. And, I was already up in town and I found out "X-Factor" auditions were happening while I was there on days when we were off, and I thought, "This is too easy. I have to go." Ashley Amber, who was a dancer in Evita, lives ten minutes from the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, and I called her because we were really good friends, and I said, "Listen, can I stay at your house? Will you take me to the auditions?" And she said, "Of course." So I went out there and had a place to stay, pretty much the easiest decision of my life. I had nothing to lose at that point. I was bartending in Nashville, so [I thought], "I'll give it a shot."

Question: Were there preliminary auditions?
Potter: Oh yeah, there were three rounds before you get to see the celebrity judges. So there’s that day when you go, and it's thousands of people in a giant arena…and there are 20 booths set up with one person, and you go in and sing a cappella. I got put through. I was so grateful—the guy that put me through the first time loved Broadway. He was so awesome, and after, he said, "I’m giving you a ticket, but you gotta sing Wicked first." [Laughs.] I ended up singing "Defying Gravity" in the booth after I had sung my country song. He was like, "Yeah, I'm putting you through." It was so awesome. At the end of the day it’s a lot like auditioning for a Broadway show—it’s a person. There’s no machinery involved. It’s a person, and their taste is involved, and I got massively lucky that the person who put me through really appreciated my background.

Potter performs on the Nov. 6 live episode of "The X Factor."
Photo by Ray Mickshaw/FOX

Question: When you finally got on stage and saw those judges, what was that experience like?
Potter: That was a pretty surreal experience—especially [seeing] someone like Simon Cowell. We’ve been watching him on TV for upwards of 10, 12 years, and he’s also kind of scary, because as a singer, you’re like, "What is he going to say to me?" [Laughs.] And I know Simon’s background—he’s not always been the nicest to people who were Broadway performers or musical theatre performers, so I was really nervous. But the difference between the "X-Factor" and some of the other shows is they film in front of stadiums of people. So there was not only those four judges but also 4,000 people. That was a trip, too, because that was more people than I’ve ever played to. It was electric; the energy in the room was just overwhelming. Marty Thomas actually went with me. He was there for my audition, so when I walked offstage I just remember saying, "What happened? Please tell me everything that just happened. I don’t remember." [Laughs.] I felt like I blacked out.

Question: In the package intro for you, they didn’t mention your Broadway credits.
Potter: You know, after they didn’t air anything, there was such a backlash on YouTube. After that first audition, you better believe I stood up there and was so proud of what I’ve done on Broadway. I rattled off every single show that I’d done, and the crowd got wilder and wilder with every credit that I mentioned because they love shows like Wicked and Evita and Addams Family, and that was a New York audience, and probably half of those kids in the room had been to the shows… I talked about everything, and that’s why Demi Lovato made the comment, “So you know a lot about the music industry?” and, I said, “Yes, ma'am, sort of,” meaning I know Broadway, but I don’t know recording or country music as well as I’d need to be successful. But I do know how to audition for a Broadway show, but those two things are not the same. "X-Factor" really wants to find people from the beginning. They want America to feel like they plucked someone from obscurity. And, to many people, Broadway means famous. But people don’t understand that people in the Broadway community are known within the Broadway community, but that doesn’t mean you can sell a million records. So that’s what I need, the next step to help me get to that.

Potter on opening night of Evita.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

They really wanted to focus on that, but what they found was there was such a backlash and such an anger because so many people did know about the shows that I'd been in because they were such loved shows. So from that, there was an episode last night called "Getting to Know the Top 12," and they actually put a factoid in the bottom of the screen: "Rachel used to work on Broadway before she moved to Nashville." I’m so excited that they’re excited to start talking about that. Where I believe the story lies is not that I’m a bartender in Nashville, but that I went from doing something I truly loved and being mildly successful at it and giving it up and moving to Nashville to start from zero because of this dream. I’m excited they’re embracing that because the last thing I’d ever want is for the Broadway community to think I didn’t own and love them.

Question: You just advanced to the Top 12. What was your reaction to hearing that you had made that group?
Potter: That was a major relief and honestly a huge surprise. After the 4 Chair Challenge, I was fairly certain I was going to go home and more than anything else, I was so grateful I had the chance to sing again and redeem myself from that bad performance. Because that was not only one of the worst performances I’ve ever given on television, but maybe one of the worst performances of my whole life… I had eaten a bunch of zinc tablets because I felt like I was getting a cold, and someone kept giving me Zicam, which is pure zinc. My doctor was like, “I can’t even eat a zinc tablet without vomiting. You have to eat it on a full stomach." Of course, on a day like that, I hardly ate anything, and I probably had like six Zicam tablets, so half an hour before we started to sing, I was feeling really weird, but I was chalking it up to nerves, and I downed a bunch of water before I went on stage. And I was literally gagging; my gag reflex was like, "We’re going to throw up on TV!” I actually threw up in my mouth while I was singing. You can actually see it on the playback if you watch for it — it’s very clear. [Laughs.] My esophagus was moving, and to all the singers out there, they’ll know when your esophagus is moving up and down, you can’t control your voice. How do you say on TV, "I almost threw up!" and try to maintain some sort of attractive quality? [Laughs.] A lot of that they didn’t show because it was edited. They asked me, "Is something wrong with you? Are you sick? What happened?" I said, "I’ve been sick and taking medicine all day," and I did say to them, "I almost threw up," and they laughed. And, I said, "Well, I’m not joking." And Simon said, "That would be great TV." Of course, they edited it out.

Potter on the Oct. 29 Top 16 episode of "The X Factor."
Photo by Ray Mickshaw/FOX

Question: What’s the process like of working with a mentor?
Potter: We’re asked to put together song selections, a bunch of different songs we would want to do and then we’re put with a music producer. I’m actually with this amazing producer John Shanks, and he co-wrote and produced “The Climb” with Miley Cyrus, “Somebody Like You” with Keith Urban. He's just done so much in his career. He also worked with Kelly Rowland and Kelly Clarkson. I'm put with him and a vocal coach, and we worked on songs that Kelly has approved and Kelly has picked. And once we work them out, we sing them for Kelly, and then we work on them with her, and there’s more on the personal side of the mentoring, not just about the music, but who you are as an artist and a person. It’s great because now that we’re into live shows, we get a lot of rehearsal, a lot of time onstage, whereas with the 4 Chair Challenge, that was the first time we'd seen the stage. It’s really nice because coming from the world of Broadway where you get so much time on the stage and blocking and choreography, it makes you feel so much more comfortable to be able to live in the space for a while. I'm really grateful we get a chance to do that.

Question: Even if you don’t win, you’re going to be so much more recognizable. What are your thoughts about that kind of fame?
Potter: Well, I would love to win the competition or just go as far as I possibly can. My ultimate goal is to be able to make records. What I was finding in Nashville was that people were not responding to me at all. I thought perhaps if I came in and had some Broadway credits, people in the record industry would say, “Wow! You've done a lot of stuff. Let's pay attention to you.” Instead, it was the complete opposite. It really didn’t translate. People did not care, and they said, "Well you’re 29, your songs are ok.” I felt like I needed something like this to be able to get people’s attention, more than anything. So, whatever happens, I’m going to continue to move forward. I’ll put out a record whether it's with a record deal or without one, but it would certainly be amazing if it was with one, and if it was as the winner. [Laughs.]

Question: Do you let your mind go there that you could win? 
Potter: No, absolutely not. I’m just taking it week by week and trying to live in the now, in the moment, and not get too ahead of myself. Eye on the prize, for sure. I know why I’m here, and it’s not just to hang out and be silly. This is my job right now, it’s my livelihood. These couple of months could really determine so much in my future, so I’m very focused, but I'm not really allowing myself to get my hopes up that I will win because there are so many talented people in the competition. And, you just never know how people are going to vote.

Question: Have you heard from a lot of Broadway people since you’ve been on TV? What’s that reaction been like?
Potter: I’ve just gotten a ton of support from my Broadway friends. The other day we had to get it out on social media for these hashtags to go up. Because for the top 15, they were taking polls, not necessarily voting, but popular vote and seeing where the standings were. Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan and Ricky Martin—they put the hashtag out for me, because they’re good friends of mine from my days on Broadway. They were so amazing to put that out there. Orfeh did it, too. [That's just] a few, a ton more did it as well. And that’s amazing. It’s the best feeling in the world to have that support from my home, which is, in my opinion, the Broadway community. That’s where I did so much of my growing up and learning who I was as an artist, not only as a musical theatre artist but as a country artist. Laura Osnes came and sang with me in one of my shows at Joe’s Pub when I was doing country. It’s just so cool to be supported by them, and, truly, if I have my way, I’ll be able to get to go back to Broadway some day for sure.

To vote for Potter, click here or text 9 to 21523 or call (855) 843-9309. Click here for more information about The X Factor and Rachel Potter.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Rachel Potter and Fellow Top 12 at "The X Factor" Finalist Party

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