Singer Rachel Potter, a Seminole grad who went on to perform on Broadway, recently made it into the top 12 on ‘The X Factor’ reality singing competition. She’ll be performing at The Hideaway in St. Petersburg on Dec. 22.
SEMINOLE – Singer Rachel Potter just happened to find herself visiting New York while “The X Factor” was holding auditions this summer.
It must have been kismet, because the Seminole alum had just relocated from the Big Apple to Nashville, Tenn., a few months earlier. She’d earned a few plum roles on Broadway – Wednesday Addams in “The Addams Family,” the Mistress in “Evita” – but Potter was ready to change gears.
Music City was calling her name and Potter “took a big ol’ leap of faith.” She had always dreamed of being a country star.
So when a friend Tweeted to her about “The X Factor” auditions, Potter couldn’t help but wonder if the reality singing competition could help her make the transition from musical theater to country recording artist.
Though she made it through the initial audition rounds as one of the competition’s top 12 performers, she was eliminated three weeks into the live results shows. But Potter isn’t bitter. The exposure from the show alone made it all worth it, she said.
Now, the Seminole High School grad will be back in town for the holidays and performing at St. Petersburg’s Hideaway Café on Sunday, Dec. 22.
Potter’s parents were musicians. In fact, music was the reason they got together in the first place, though they later divorced. The couple performed and toured together in a New Orleans-based country rock band.
Eventually, Potter was born and the young family relocated to Seminole for a quieter lifestyle.
Still, while growing up, music was a part of her family’s everyday life. Her father, Roy Potter, an executive at Progress Energy during the week, used his free time to record songs in the garage and his band Taxi was a mainstay at local pubs; her mother was a vocal coach, teaching her and other students in their living room, and performed locally as well.
“I sang to her before she was even born,” said her mother, Tonya Shaw. “Rachel was singing before she ever spoke. She’d hum little tunes and then eventually she started to learn how to talk.”
Potter sang her first solo at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater when she was 3.
“So I grew up singing church music,” she said. “I never really had any other idea of what I wanted to do other than be a recording artist.
She began writing her own music at 12, composing her first song, “Because of You,” as a way to emotionally process her mother’s Juvenile Diabetes diagnosis.
“It was a method to cope with what she was going through and what I was feeling about it,” she said.
At 16, she focused on writing Christian music. She signed to a small, local label, Narrow Door Records, and released her first album, a collection of 10 original songs called “Come Back Home.”
“I was so excited,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Meanwhile, she performed in chorus throughout her school years – from Bauder Elementary School to Seminole Middle School to Seminole High School. In middle school, she performed in the Music Makers group, and in high school she joined the Seminole Singers, a show choir group.
“Seminole was such a great place to grow up,” she said. “The arts and culture there are incredible.”
After graduating from SHS in 2002, Potter headed to Orlando. She was offered a Bright Futures Scholarship from the state to attend the University of Central Florida.
Uncertain of where her music career was headed and not wanting to lose the scholarship money, she decided to earn a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising.
“It made sense to go ahead and go to college to use that scholarship I worked so hard for,” she said.
Potter had no experience in musical theater, but a friend suggested that since she was so close to Walt Disney World, she should audition to sing in the theme park.
“I needed a job and somebody said you can make money singing,” she said. “But musical theater was never really on my radar until I was an adult working at Disney World.”
She was cast as Ariel in the “Voyage of the Little Mermaid” and went on to play the roles of Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”, Nemo in “Finding Nemo” and other beloved characters.
“For five years I sang ‘A Part of Your World’ seven times a day,” she said. “It was an amazing job.”
In 2008, Potter graduated from UCF. That same year, she made it into the top 15 of MTV’s reality show “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods.” This inspired her to give Broadway a try.
She headed north to New York City, where she got a gig singing in a wedding band. For two years she auditioned for Broadway shows, and eventually was cast in the second national tour of Wicked as understudy for the part of Glinda.
“That was amazing,” she said. “If you’re ever going to go on tour, going on tour with Wicked is the way to do it. It was a huge tour and everything was top notch.”
She added, “Getting that role fresh out of the gate was pretty crazy. I was used to being a part of something that people liked a lot, working at Disney, because people love it so much. But man, it’s special to be a part of something so well done and to feel so proud of your work.”
After the tour, though she hoped to focus on her own songwriting, she landed the role of Wednesday Addams in “The Addams Family.” Following this, she was cast as Peron’s mistress in the 2012 revival of “Evita” starring Ricky Martin.
“It was an original production with Ricky Martin,” she said. “There was no way I was turning that down.”
But she also wasn’t going to let it stop her from releasing her own music. She had two weeks in between the close of “The Addams Family” and the first rehearsals for “Evita.” So she turned to Kickstarter and raised $20,000 – double what she asked for – to record and release “Live the Dream,” a six-song EP, in that short span of time.
Potter was bitten by the Nashville bug while touring with “Wicked.”
While the production was in Memphis, she’d drive to Nashville to see friends on her days off.
“I just thought, ‘Oh wow, I’m meant to be here,’” she said.
She started writing country music while on the road with the show, but being cast in “The Addams Family” and “Evita” kept her from making the move to Tennessee. But when “Evita” closed, the timing was right for her to finally head to Nashville.
“I felt like something was missing [in New York],” she said. “I wanted to be making my own music and expressing the inner voice. And I started writing songs and recording and playing out and realized Nashville is where I needed to be.”
She added, “I saw a window where it was like, I don’t have a show happening. I don’t have any prospects. What do I have to lose at this point? What other time will I be able to pick up my whole life and give Nashville a shot?”
The X Factor
Less than a year living in Nashville, Potter found herself auditioning for “The X Factor” in New York. After several rounds performing acappella for the show’s producers, she landed in front of the celebrity judges – Simon Cowell, creator of “American Idol,” and singers Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio – who would determine whether or not she went on to the live results shows.
She wowed them with her countrified version of Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” Performing in the over 25 category, with Rowland as her coach, Potter remained in the mix as others were eliminated. Eventually she made it to the show’s top 40, then the top 16, and top 12.
Cowell occasionally vocalized his criticism of Potter, “which was kind of a bummer,” she said. “I really love him and wanted him to see me as a Carrie Underwood type.”
The female coaches, however, often spoke highly of her, praising her performances.
But in Week 3 of the live results shows, Potter and the girl group Sweet Suspense were eliminated.
“I was blindsided,” said her mother. “Just the night before Demi Lovato told her, ‘You are so good. I think you’re going to win this whole thing.’”
Potter had the chance to sing to save herself, pitted against the young Khaya Cohen. The judges ultimately saved Cohen, claiming she had more potential.
“It’s sort of frustrating,” Potter said. “I went on that show to prove my age isn’t an issue and then I was eliminated against a 15-year-old girl who wasn’t eliminated because of her potential, most likely really because of her age.”
But Potter doesn’t let the elimination get her down. The best thing that could have come from the show is the exposure that came with it, she said.
“The idea of winning never entered my mind,” she said. “I didn’t even entertain it, to be honest with you. Because I didn’t want to be massively disappointed when I didn’t win. I was pleasantly surprised I made it as far as I did and grateful for each second I got to go further.”
Though she’s contractually obligated to “The X Factor” into 2016, Potter has a full-length album waiting in the wings, ready to be released. For now, she plans on hitting the road, booking gigs in both bigger venues as well as house concerts, and reaching out to the fans she’s made while on the show.
“I just want to give them my music,” she said. “My fans, that’s what it’s all about.”
She added, “There are doors opening for me.”
One of these gigs will be at The Hideaway Café, 1756 Central Ave., St. Petersburg on Sunday, Dec. 22. She performed there last over the summer, while she starred in Spring Awakening at freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg.