Exclusive: THE X FACTOR Standout Carly Rose Sonenclar Talks Broadway Beginnings, WONDERLAND and More
The X Factor's pint-sized powerhouse Carly Rose Sonenclar made the leap to the $5 million singing competition this fall with her audition to Nina Simone's "Feeling Good," which has skyrocketed to over 15 million views on YouTube in just over a month.
Theater audiences know Sonenclar from the 2006 revival of Les Misérables or in 2011's Wonderland, but the 13-year-old found the perfect time to change gears. "There aren't many shows I could do right now. There's Annie, but I’m a little too old for that," Sonenclar said in a phone interview on Monday. "This is a good time for The X Factor."
The Westchester, NY native's first stage role came in the form of 2006's musical The Night of the Hunter, based on the horror novel of the same name, at just 7 years old. "My friends and I went to acting workshops. I got signed from one of those, and it all just kind of happened from there." She explains. The Night of the Hunter role almost didn't happen – the show had been cast for its NYMF run and had even started rehearsals, but halfway through the rehearsal
process its youngest star departed the production and Sonenclar stepped in.
A role in Broadway's Les Misérables followed. Cameron Mackintosh, the lauded producer who brought Les Misérables to Broadway, described the process for casting for Young Cosette in a 2006 New York Times interview. He grew teary relating Sonenclar’s audition: "She was vulnerable," said Mackintosh. "You felt this was a girl that was abused, and that is the situation she is in."
She was cast as an alternate for both Young Cosette and Young Eponine, understudying the supporting role of Gavroche, the street boy. "I never did go on as Gavroche," she says, but she impressed as Young Cosette and would go on to reprise the role in the 2008 tour of Les Mis.
Sonenclar was then offered the role of Carrie, the second youngest member of the famed Ingalls family, in Little House on the Prairie in 2009. The touring show was also home to some other notable faces: in addition to then 10-year-old Sonenclar, it featured Kara Lindsay, now starring in Newsies on Broadway as Laura; Jenn Gambatese, who will next appear in The Lyric Opera of Chicago’s starry Oklahoma! as Mary; and Melissa Gilbert, best known for playing Laura Ingalls in the 1970s Little House TV series, as Ma. "We all got really close," Sonenclar says. "We keep in touch – I just talked to Kara. Melissa lives in LA, and I’m in LA now, so it’s been great. Melissa came with her son to see The X Factor the other day."
In 2010, Sonenclar landed a starring part in Frank Wildhorn’s new venture, Wonderland, a musical based on the world of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The show, which featured Sonenclar in a lead role as Chloe – daughter to Janet Dacal's Alice – received a lukewarm reception but still made its Broadway debut in 2011. "Things were changing constantly, right up until opening, so it seemed like maybe they weren’t that confident in it," she admits, "But I don’t think any of us thought that it would close so soon." Though Wonderland did close after just 33 regular performances, its cast recording was released that May.
Following Wonderland, Sonenclar spent her time in New York volunteering for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, which offers outpatient, hospital-based and Web offerings to brighten the lives of young patients. "I’m an ambassador for the foundation," Sonenclar says. "I’d go and I’d talk with the kids and sing for them." Carly and Friends ran on KidZone closed circuit television in Mt. Sanai and featured Carly singing, sometimes with guests (Spider-Man's Rebecca Faulkenberry and Archie Comics' Nancy Silberkleit have joined Carly in past shows). "What’s great about the Starlight Foundation is that they offer support for the families, too," Sonenclar says. "So you get to help the families and the kids."
Then, of course, came The X Factor. This fall, Carly Rose took the show by storm, easily making the top ten and placing an impressive second in overall votes not once, but twice. Of her most recent performance, "My Heart Will Go On," X Factor judge Simon Cowell joked that he didn't believe she could be human. "I don't believe you are a human being," he said. "You can't do that at 13. You can't." The top 10 perform tonight, singing songs to people they're thankful for (Carly chose "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for her brother, Russell). Tune in at 8/7c to see the performance!
The X Factor airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm on FOX.