When 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar auditioned on “The X Factor” last week, she blew all four judges away with her pitch-perfect, soulful delivery of Nina Simone’s bluesy classic, “Feeling Good.” But the judges didn’t expect such a young girl to handle such a mature song. When Carly announced her song choice, Simon Cowell’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. LA Reid asked her, somewhat condescendingly, whether she’d even rehearsed and picked the song herself.
“I remember being so nervous when they looked at me like that,” Carly recalled in a phone interview. “I was like, ‘Oh God, do they not like that song or something?’ I didn’t understand why they were looking at me like that.”
Only later, Carly realized that even adults have a hard time with a song like “Feeling Good,” and that choosing it would be a risk for any auditioner. But after getting four yesses from the judges, “I think it paid off,” she said.
A singer and actress with Broadway creds, the Westchester County-native is no stranger to the spotlight—and is perfectly poised when talking to the press. She has been singing since age 2—back when “American Idol” first hit the airwaves. She made her Broadway debut at age 7 in “Les Miserables,” and has had roles on the PBS show “The Electric Company” and in the films “The Nanny Diaries” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.” Most recently, she starred in the Broadway musical “Wonderland” in 2011.
Watch Carly’s Stunning “X Factor” Performance:
Though she’s been auditioning for most of her life, auditioning for “The X Factor” was unlike anything else Carly had done before. “Broadway auditions are usually more intimate. You’re just in a studio somewhere, and there’s like four or five people sitting there at a table and writing notes. There’s not like 5,000 people behind them. There’s no crowd that can cheer you on. It’s definitely not as exciting.”
And the people she usually auditions in front of aren’t of the caliber of “The X Factor” judges, either. “Simon Cowell—I’ve grown up watching him on ‘American Idol,’” said Carly. “He’s always been so present in my life, so that was so cool to be in front of him.”
Since the episode aired, the middle-schooler said her life has most notably changed on Twitter (@carlyrosemusic). Her followers skyrocketed from 96 to more than 2,000 in just minutes, and she’s well on her way to 5,000. “That was a shock for me, because I’d never seen anything more than a two-digit number on there,” said Carly. Meanwhile, imposters claiming to be her have also popped up on Twitter. “There’s people pretending to be me now,” she said. “It’s bad because they have more followers than me.”
If Carly makes it far as a pop singer on “The X Factor,” she said it shouldn’t affect her Broadway career much, at least for the next couple of years. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’m getting too old for the young roles, and I’m too young to play a teenager right now,” she explained. “So even if this didn’t come around, I probably wouldn’t be doing Broadway right now. I’m at a bad age.”
Instead, Carly will focus on her musical goal: bringing “that jazz soulful feeling” of “Feeling Good” to the Top 40. “That’s something that hasn’t happened yet, and I can bring those two together,” she said.
Aside from Nina Simone, one of Carly’s biggest musical influences is Dan Auerbach, the lead singer of the Black Keys. She also cites Etta James as an influence, especially since Flo Rida sampled James’s “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” in the current hit “Good Feeling.” “Nobody my age would ever have listened to that song if it wasn’t put into a Top 40 song,” said Carly. “That shows old classics can be put into songs kids my age like.”