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InDepth InterView: Rachel Potter Talks New Album, NOT SO BLACK & WHITE, Plus Looks Back At EVITA, WICKED, THE X FACTOR & More

Today we are talking to one of the breakout stars of FOX's recent reality performance competition series THE X FACTOR who is also a recognizable Broadway regular in her own right, the passionate and very versatile Rachel Potter. Espousing on her impressive new country/pop album NOT SO BLACK & WHITE and explicating the impetus behind many of the standout tracks on the release, Potter opens up about her unique journey thus far in both her own life and in her show business career - from a conservative Southern Baptist upbringing to her early success headlining Disney theme park extravaganzas leading to a string of Broadway roles and eventually landing on THE X FACTOR, followed by her big move to NASHVILLE and embarking on creating songs for a solo album that expresses exactly who she is, here and now. Additionally, Potter shares what audiences can expect from her upcoming live show at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC tonight as well as some special surprises she has in store for the performance. Plus, Potter reflects on some of her most memorable Disney shows and whether she would like to continue the tradition with FROZEN onstage while also recalling backstage stories from EVITA, WICKED and MTV's LEGALLY BLONDE casting competition, THE SEARCH FOR ELLE WOODS. All of that, her memorable GLEE audition, thoughts on Simon Cowell and much more in this expansive conversation with a uniquely gifted Broadway crossover star worth watching.

More information on Rachel Potter's NOT SO BLACK & WHITE is available at the official site here. More information on Rachel Potter at the Rockwood Music Hall tonight in NYC is available at the official site here.

Somebody To Love

PC: What was your first professional gig?

RP: I began my musical theatre career at Disney World when I got THE LITTLE MERMAID there. Then, I learned some other shows while I was there, too - Belle in BEAUTY & THE BEAST and a revue and then I did HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 1 and 2.

PC: Were the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL shows particularly popular?

RP: Oh, yeah! [Laughs.] I remember being on these huge floats in the middle of MGM Studios. I did FINDING NEMO after that.

PC: And then you came to New York.

RP: Yes. It was really cool how it all worked out - you know, I got my Equity card working at Disney World, so I was auditioning in New York while I was still in Florida performing at Disney World; I would fly out for random things. So, Telsey had seen me and then they asked me to audition for the LEGALLY BLONDE reality show. So, the LEGALLY BLONDE thing happened when I was still living in Florida.

PC: Did you get to work one-on-one with Seth Rudetsky on the LEGALLY BLONDE: THE SEARCH FOR ELLE WOODS?

RP: Yeah, I sure did! He's so great. The funny thing is, the day after my episode aired, Don Buchwald & Associates called me and said, "Do you have an agent?" and I said, "No, I have nothing," and they said, "We want to represent you," and then they signed me.

PC: How fortuitous!

RP: I know! I was so lucky. You know, there are so many people who move to New York with literally nothing - just a dream in their pocket - but I got to move to New York with my Equity card and already signed with a great agency. That was really lucky.

PC: Were you in the original cast of FINDING NEMO there?

RP: I wasn't in the original cast, I joined about a year into it - a year after it opened.

PC: Of course, that was Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez's first big Disney foray before FROZEN became such a huge smash.

RP: It's so amazing - I am so happy for them. Have they actually started auditioning FROZEN for Broadway yet? If they have, I really need to get an appointment! [Laughs.]

PC: Were they still involved in casting for FINDING NEMO at Disney World when you were chosen?

RP: They weren't directly involved with casting - I think they had stepped away at that point; you know, with these theme park things they kind of just set it up and get it going with their vision intact and then they leave it in the hands of someone who is capable of being more an operations manager. So, I was part of the second run of the show when the operations manager had taken over, so I never got to meet Bobby and Kristen personally while I was doing the show. I sort of feel like I know them, though, because all of my friends who were still in the show when I joined had worked with them already and were part of that whole process of conceptualizing it. Hopefully, I'll get to meet them when I play Elsa or Anna in FROZEN on Broadway, though, right?! [Laughs.]

PC: A heavyweight director you worked with on EVITA has been getting a lot of attention for his live TV productions - Rob Ashford, who did not only THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE! and PETER PAN LIVE! but also the opening number of this year's Oscars.

RP: Oh, I would absolutely love to do one of those - Rob, give me a call, man!

PC: Have you sought out playing Evita herself since you did THE MISTRESS on Broadway?

RP: I actually have auditioned to do EVITA recently, but those b*tches turned me down!

PC: No way!

RP: I was like, "Are you serious?!" I had a great audition, too! It was a company in Atlanta and they ended up going with someone local, so I was like, "Whatever - your loss."

PC: What did you sing?

RP: I sang all of it! All the big songs - "Buenos Aires"; everything. I don't think they realized the press that they could have gotten out of it if they cast me, but I did! Whatever - it's OK.

PC: Speaking of singing onscreen, WICKED is gearing up for a movie and you of course have done the show onstage, have you not?

RP: Yes, I did the national tour. That was funny because I auditioned for Elphaba in WICKED for probably three years - always being called in for Elphaba - and I'd get callbacks and stuff but I never booked the role. Then, Telsey saw me for Doralee in 9-TO-5 and all of a sudden their minds sort of changed about me and they could see me playing a blonde after they saw me as a blonde for the Doralee role. So, then, they were like, "Hey, why don't we bring you in for Glinda?" So, they did and I booked it on my first audition!

PC: What a great story.

RP: It was crazy! I had been in for Elphaba 7 or 8 times and then I got Glinda on my first try.

PC: Would you like to play Elphaba someday, too?

RP: Absolutely! I never got to do it. I really want to do that part someday - it's still on my bucket list! I hope they'll bring me back into the fold someday to be a part of that musical again.

PC: Has anyone ever played both roles as far as you know?

RP: I don't know, but I would love to be the first!

PC: Maybe you can do a performance piece playing both simultaneously!

RP: Sure! Just paint me green on one side of my face... [Laughs.]

PC: Have you auditioned to appear on GLEE or SMASH or any of the other performing arts related shows over the years?

RP: Actually, I did. I auditioned for Rachel Berry on GLEE when they were first looking for people for that. It didn't go too far - I think I got maybe one callback - but it was in New York, not LA. I think all the screen tests and stuff happened out in LA, so I never got that far, but I auditioned for Rachel Berry and it was really fun to do. I don't even remember what I sang it was so long ago now.

PC: Your "Somebody To Love" is as iconic as the GLEE cover. How did that originally come about that you did that Queen song in the first place?

RP: I'm sure you know Morgan James, of course. I saw Morgan James sing "Somebody To Love" at a concert she did in Philadelphia 6 or 7 years ago now and I remember thinking at the time, "How cool to hear a girl do 'Somebody To Love'!" And, so, I started using "Somebody To Love" in my musical theatre auditions after that - whenever I would be asked to sing a pop song. So, what was really kind of funny about my audition for THE X FACTOR is that the night before I was actually going to sing a Rascal Flatts song and not "Somebody To Love" but I used my cut version - my minute-long cut version of "Somebody To Love" - for the rounds prior, where I sang it acapella. So, the night before, when I planning on singing my little Rascal Flatts song, the producers said to me, "We want you to do 'Somebody To Love'. Here's the track." And, so, I had to edit it and make it into my version at midnight the night before my 6 AM audition the next morning.

PC: How harrowing!

RP: Yeah, it was pretty scary. I remember thinking, "Oh, crap!" So, for all those years until then I had only been singing a cut version of it and I didn't know all the words to the rest of it! I only knew my little part that I used for auditions. So, that night, I had to learn the rest of the song - the whole second verse and the bridge and everything. It's funny thinking about it now and it worked out really well, but it was pretty scary at the time having to learn it so fast.

PC: Have you ever auditioned for the Queen jukebox musical at any point, WE WILL ROCK YOU?

RP: No, I haven't, but I saw it when it came through NASHVILLE - one of my friends was in it, actually. It was great, though - I loved it!

PC: I am curious: how precisely did you come to do "Alone" by Heart?

RP: Well, it was 80s week that week on THE X FACTOR and that was a song that I had always loved singing in karaoke and gay bars and stuff in New York, so that was one I really wanted to do. It's unfortunate that nobody really seemed to connect to it and that's the song that ended up getting me kicked off. I think a lot of that is because I can do such a wide range of styles - that's my training; musical theatre. You know, I was trained to be able to mold myself to different genres - whether it's pop musical theatre or classical musical theatre or what; I've always been wired to be able to transition between styles.

PC: Versatility.

RP: Exactly. So, I think that when I was on THE X FACTOR I transitioned too far sometimes - like, for the Heart song, I was a full-out 80s rock chick, to the point where Simon [Cowell] was literally like, "What kind of singer do you want to be?" and I said, "Country," and he said, "That wasn't country," and I'm like, "Yeah, I know - I was singing 'Alone' by Heart all dressed in leather in front of a fence. What do you want from me?"

PC: It seems that Simon perceives many musical theatre performers to be inauthentic when tackling many different styles full-on, as they do.

RP: I think that's true - absolutely. I think that there was a big issue with me as far as Simon goes with, "Who are you? What is your identity?" For me, I feel like there are some people who are artists - they aren't necessarily trained singers, they are what they are and they eat, sleep and breathe their art. For me, my first love is singing - that was what I was trained to do my whole life; taking voice lessons and practicing the craft of being a vocalist. So, I think the artistry part was possibly a disconnect for them and maybe it was something I hadn't even discovered about myself yet.

PC: A wise observation.

RP: A big part of this record - NOT SO BLACK & WHITE - was because of all that. Coming off THE X FACTOR, I could have thrown an album together and put it out there really quickly, but I wanted to really dive in and figure out who I was and what I wanted my sound to be. Ultimately, I had been told a lot to dumb down my vocals and that country singers don't sing as high and me and don't belt like I do and don't riff like I do, so I should dumb it down and sing it more simply. But, I was like, "Eh? That's not me." I mean, I love country music, but I also love Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and riffing and singing high and belting like I did in my Broadway days, too, so I felt like I had to figure that out for myself and not just dumb it down like some people told me to do.

PC: The intimacy and enveloping sound of the album is particularly notable - your vocals certainly take a front seat. Did you have a lot of involvement in the production?

RP: Oh, thank you for saying that! I worked with a guy named Tyler Cain on this album, who is a sort of up-and-coming producer in Nashville. He and I have been friends for a long time and I interviewed so many producers but I wasn't feeling anybody, so I went and met with him and we hit it off instantly - he was already my friend, too, so I was like, "You've been right under my nose this whole time!"

PC: How serendipitous.

RP: It really was. And, I loved working with him. As an independent artist, it's really great working with somebody like him because he can do so much - he can engineer and then he can play everything, too; banjo, guitar, bass, ukelele, piano; and, he can program beats! So, with him, there is so much stuff that you don't have to source out, which is really, really valuable for somebody like me on a project like this where we don't have a huge budget. I loved every minute of working with him and I think we made a really cool pop/country record - it really is both pop and country, I think.

PC: You meld the genres seamlessly.

RP: Thanks for saying that. I mean, I love pop music and I love telling stories and I love the authentic country sound, too, so I wanted to find a cool Fusion of the two on this record and I think we did in a lot of ways. Of course, I am still learning and I haven't perfected this art yet, but I am definitely proud of these songs and this album and where we ended up. I think Tyler did a fantastic job on it.

PC: What was the inspiration behind the first single, "Boomerang"?

RP: I actually wrote that song with my ex-boyfriend, Chase Peacock, who is also a Broadway performer - he did AMERICAN IDIOT. We dated back when we were teenagers and then we got back together a few years ago and then we wrote that song. Since then, we've broken up again - but, I guess all romantic fairy tales have to come to an end! And, hey, we got a great song out of it.

PC: The glass is definitely half full in that case, then.

RP: It definitely is. So, anyway, I have a friend in a band who sang the duet with me and I love the way it turned out - and, the song is a real, true story that Chase and I experienced. We actually did come back around and find each other again in life.

PC: What a meta-narrative!

RP: I know!

PC: Another track you have out, "The Verdict", didn't make the cut for the album, right?

RP: No, that isn't on the album, but, yes, the track is out there. I wrote that with a friend of mine in my dressing room for EVITA, actually - that song was kind of the start of my songwriting career. I wrote that for the album, but what happened was that I wanted to drive up my subscriptions to my mailing list when I came off THE X FACTOR, so I offered it on my website for free. So, if people want it, they just have to sign up for my mailing list on my website and they will get to download it for free. It's like a secret bonus track.

PC: What was the first song that you wrote for this album as it now stands?

RP: The first song that I wrote specifically for this record was "Moon Over Nashville", which I wrote while I was still in New York and I was just leaving town. It was about leaving town. I had just had a pretty bad breakup and I found out EVITA was closing right at the same time, so it was a lot of heartbreak - not just romantic heartbreak, but heartbreak over the show being over. And, my lease was about to be up at my apartment, too!

PC: A planetary sign - or three!

RP: It really was! All these things sort of ceased at the same time for me, so I wrote this song about dreaming of going to NASHVILLE for a fresh start. Those were the things that all combined to push me over the edge to move to Nashville.

PC: And it has worked out quite well for you there ever since, obviously.

RP: It has - the day that the album comes out will actually be my two-year anniversary of moving to Nashville, to the day.

PC: "Jesus & Jezebel" seems very personal, is it?

RP: Yes, it is. I mean, I grew up Southern Baptist and when I was 18 I was kicked out of my church for just being a normal teenager, basically, but that wasn't allowed in my church - premarital sex. So, I was told that I was literally not allowed to sing at my church anymore - that was the first crack in my armor. Then, my best friend came out to me when we were 18 and I started working at Disney around the same time and realized that there was this whole culture I didn't know. Being the investigative reporter type that I am, I thought, "Well, I've been taught my whole life that gay people are going to Hell, but I've got to find out for myself what I think of them." So, I started going to gay bars and becoming best friends with people who were gay - it wasn't an issue for them at all, they were just normal men and women who were out and proud.

PC: Like everybody else.

RP: Just normal people. It opened my eyes to all of that, being at Disney World - there was no shame. It was like, "This is who I am. I am proud and happy and live a great life and have been with my partner for 25 years and we are in love." It was all those things you never hear about in the church because you are sheltered from it from such a young age. It was really eye-opening for me to see that. So, I wanted to get more educated about those people and I realized that the God I serve would never not love these people. That isn't the God I believe in - if he doesn't love my best friend like I do, then that isn't the God that I believe in.

PC: You actually did a Christian album very early on in your career, did you not?

RP: Yes, I did - before I was outcasted from the church! [Laughs.]

PC: "Gonna Get Burned" is really rocking and very sexy. What inspired that song?

RP: "Gonna Get Burned" I wrote after I moved to NASHVILLE and I was going out and meeting guys. I was like, "I need a song that doesn't slut-shame girls and empowers women." So, that's how "Gonna Get Burned" came about, basically.

PC: What about "Not So Black & White"?

RP: "Not So Black & White" I wrote as a response to all the fans I was meeting at the stage door who asked, "Can you tell me how to do what you do? Can you tell me how to be famous?" I was like, "I went to school for advertising and PR. Then, I moved to New York and I sang in a wedding band. Then, I took classes with Craig Carnelia," and I felt like my story is so different from the next person's but what you take away from all that is that nothing is black and white - there is no right or wrong way to do this. So, "Not So Black & White" is about all of that as well as wanting to encourage all of the teenagers who reached out to me after I was on THE X FACTOR - a lot of kids really opened up to me and I saw how much hurt there was in this younger generation. I wanted to impart any tiny bit of wisdom I have to them - which is basically: you have to live your life the way that you want to and you have to do what makes you happy. At the end of the day, everybody is going to have an opinion and a lot of people are going to want to tear you down and you can never really be happy until you make yourself happy first. It's about going after your dreams and living your life the way that you want.

PC: Is that your personal favorite track on the album, especially given that it is the title song?

RP: It's so hard to choose! I love them all. [Pause. Sighs.] I guess that, yeah, though, it is - and the message of the song is the message that I want to impart to people with this. I have a quote for who the record is really dedicated to that sums it up best for me; it's sort of my mission statement for the record: This record is dedicated to all who are trying to find their way and their voice in this world on a path that is not so black and white. May you love in the face of hate, stare down your fears and never forget that the beauty is in the gray.

PC: What singles do you anticipate releasing next? "Not So Black & White" and "Tail Lights" both seem very radio ready.

RP: Well, "Not So Black & White" is definitely going to be a single. But, you see, the way that singles work for me is going to be different since I am an independent artist and I don't have the money for radio promotion and getting my singles played on the radio. "Boomerang" was the first song that I put out to sort of build a little bit of a buzz about the record and we did a video for that that is currently on TMC Pure. Then, the next video that we are putting out is for "Tail Lights". My main tools these days are the internet - Youtube and Twitter and Facebook. We are planning to do videos for "Not So Black & White" and "Jesus & Jezebel" next after that. I definitely think that the "Jesus & Jezebel" video in particular is going to be a lot of fun - I am planning on using all of my Broadway dancer friends in it.

PC: How exciting!

RP: Oh, yeah - it's gonna be full-out! I need to give Jerry Mitchell a call to come and help out with it. [Laughs.]

PC: Are you open to returning to New York for a show if the right role comes along?

RP: I definitely am still interested in Broadway. I actually just auditioned for AMELIE when I was in town but I ended up not getting it because they wanted a different feel and look. I still audition when the part seems like it might be right, though. Of course, I really am focusing on this album right now because I don't want to sort of leave it behind to do a Broadway show. When you do Broadway, you really have to devote yourself and so much of your life to it. I wouldn't want to half-ass anything either - not this record and not a Broadway show, either.

PC: What can we expect from your Rockwood Music Hall performance this week back in New York?

RP: We're doing most of the songs from the album and then throwing in a couple of surprise covers, too. Honestly, I just want to share this music with New York because it still feels like home to me there, even though I am in Nashville.

PC: Are you planning on catching any shows while you are in town?

RP: I'd really like to see BEAUTIFUL. I have been asked to audition for the tour, so I feel like that music is good for me and that role could be a lot of fun to tour with, so that is first on the docket for me to see.

PC: This album is truly wonderful and I wish you much success going forward, Rachel.

RP: Thank you so much, Pat! This was amazing - it was so great to talk to you. Thank you so much for your support. Bye.

Photo Credits: RachelPotterMusic.com, FOX, etc.


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