Broadway Alum Rachel Potter Took On The X Factor and Lived to Tell the Tales
Potter shares stories from her disillusioning time on the competition series and divulges future plans for her growing country music career.
With five years as a Disney World performer and a run as Glinda in the second national tour of Wicked, Potter took Broadway by storm when, in 2011, she debuted in The Addams Family, replacing Krysta Rodriguez in the role of Wednesday Addams. The following year, she became Evita's newest Mistress, performing in the revival production opposite Ricky Martin, Elena Roger, and Michael Cerveris. Yet, in 2013, Potter halted this Broadway momentum to transplant herself in the country music capital of the world, returning to her first passion as country singer/songwriter — a move that seemed to pay off in spades when she landed in the top 12 on season three of TV's The X Factor. However, as Broadway fans who followed her on X Factor were surprised to see, Potter's history on the Great White Way was kept hidden from the show's viewers, and she departed the competition with the majority of her new fans in the dark about her life in the theater.
In anticipation of her 54 Below debut on February 24 — a one-day jaunt up from Nashville to revisit her old city — Potter chatted with TheaterMania about her newest musical ventures (including an upcoming self-produced album) while also taking the chance to set the record straight about her time on X Factor. Though Potter is hard at work on this new chapter of her career, she reassured us that a Broadway return would be more than welcome.
Was the reality television experience what you expected it to be?
I don't know that I really had any expectations going in. If anything, I may have been disappointed by the whole thing. I thought that they'd be more truthful about who I was. It was frustrating to leave the show and America never knowing I was on Broadway.
So it was the show's decision not to discuss your Broadway history?
Oh yeah. The first audition I ever went to [when] I sang "Somebody To Love" I told them every show I'd ever been in and they just edited it all out. They were trying to portray me as somebody I wasn't. My history, I thought, was what made my story interesting. It wasn't just that I was a bartender in Nashville but that I gave up a life on Broadway to be a bartender in Nashville. I pushed for that every week. It was very frustrating. I felt like the Broadway community might feel like I was hiding it and I wouldn't ever want anybody to feel like I was ashamed.
What was the backstage experience like? I'd imagine it was different than your time backstage on Broadway.
I found it shocking how nervous I was every time I would perform. I think that comes with these weird mind games they play with you. [They] would say to us, "This is the most important moment of your life. This is the pinnacle of your existence. This moment. And if you don't perform perfectly, everything is over." They make it out to be the end all be all, [and] when you are eating, breathing, sleeping X Factor and it's all you can think about, there just comes a point — and it happened to me, I'll admit it — where I just crossed over into this obsession [and] started to believe it. [I would be] standing backstage shaking, so nervous because all day they'd told me that this was my reason for living. It took a while after I got to home to let [that] go.
It sounds like a brutal environment.
It's very cutthroat. You're competing with thirteen-year-old kids. It's very weird. It's sort of like the Hunger Games. They put all of this pressure on you, [saying things] like, "This is what it's like when you're a star." No it's not! You're not trapped in a room all day, not allowed to leave, not allowed to eat the foods you want to eat, not allowed to go to the bathroom without asking. When you're on these shows you don't have a choice about what you wear, what you sing, what your staging is like, or anything.
Who would make those decisions?
There were producers. You had input, but if they didn't like it they would just nix it. Sometimes you could argue it. This one time [I told a] producer, "I really don't want to do this song," and he said, "Which one of us has forty-three Grammys in the room?" I was like, Okay, you win, bro.
Speaking of producers, how has the process been of putting together a new album without the backing of a label?
I really believe in being an independent artist, at least at this stage of my career. It makes so much sense because I have a record ready to go and [can] raise the money to record it and then I can get it out to people right away...if you can raise the money with your fans, you can be your own record label.
Are you planning anything special for your 54 Below debut?
I'm really excited about one particular song that New York hasn't heard yet. It's called "Jesus and Jezebel." It's about me and my gay best friend growing up in the church and how I think Jesus loves us even though the church didn't.
Do you think a return to Broadway is in your future?
I hope that the right project comes around that I can come back to. I'm really gunning for Frozen. I don't know why Disney has never looked at me close. I'm like, Come on guys, I got this.