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Potter brings country, Broadway experience to symphony concert

Rachel Potter will be among the guest artists joining the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra Saturday for its pops concert “A Country Christmas.”

Potter is no stranger to country (she’s released country albums as a solo act and as as member of the trio Steel Union), to Christmas (her latest EP is “Music City Christmas”) or to YSO Conductor Randall Craig Fleischer.

During a telephone interview, she said they’ve worked together more than 30 times, performing the Country Legends pops concert Fleischer created, including a 2015 performance at Powers Auditorium.

“He’s such a great guy, a great conductor,” Potter said. “He’s a musical savant. He knows the music backwards and forwards without even trying. He’s just a joy to work with. I’m so grateful he asked me to do ‘Country Legends.’ It’s a blessing to do these shows, and I hope to do them for the rest of my life.”

The program will feature an evening of orchestral arrangements of country and holiday favorites performed by vocalists Potter and Patrick Thomas, fiddler Caitlin Hedge, the St. Rose Elementary School Chorus and the Dori Yez Line Dancers.

Singing country songs backed by an orchestra is a little different than performing in Nashville.

“When you’re performing in a bar in Nashville, the audience is not really listening,” Potter said. “It’s a very captive audience (with the orchestra). That’s a wonderful thing for a performer. You feel you can really dive in and tell stories instead of just trying to win their attention … There’s nothing like singing with an orchestra. I pinch myself every time I get to do it.”

One of Potter’s favorite quotes is, “What’s meant for you will not pass you by,” and her career has been filled with opportunities that came about from nontraditional paths.

Gospel music was her love. She began writing songs at age 12 and released a contemporary Christian album as a teenager. She’d never acted or appeared in a musical until she was in college in Florida and a friend encouraged her to audition for a performing role at Disney World.

She was hired from that first audition to play Ariel from “The Little Mermaid,” and the job earned her a union card in Actors’ Equity, which led her to New York to pursue a theater career.

Her first break came in the MTV reality series “Legally Blonde: The Musical — The Search for Elle Woods.” She was eliminated in the first episode, but she got a call from an agent the day after the show aired.

Potter’s theater credits include two roles that couldn’t be more opposite — playing the perky, pink-clad Glinda on the road in the musical “Wicked” and dark, morbid Wednesday Addams on Broadway in “The Addams Family.” She got the Broadway job after driving through a snow storm from Kalamazoo, Mich., to Akron in a blizzard to catch a flight to New York on her one off day from “Wicked.”

“I didn’t get any sleep,” she said. “I think it really helped me get in character. I was exhausted, I looked miserable and I was mad. I really think the odds were in my favor that day.”

In honor of the transition from Glinda to Wednesday, Potter decided to name her song publishing company Black Is the New Pink.

Potter also appeared on Broadway in the 2012 revival of “Evita.”

Another reality series helped launch her current singing career. She was a top 12 finalist on season three of FOX’s “The X Factor,” and her audition singing Queen’s “Somebody to Love” has been viewed more than 50 million times on YouTube.

Potter’s “Music City Christmas” EP includes standards like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “White Christmas” and “Silent Night” (a duet with her mother) as well as “Tennessee Christmas,” recorded by Amy Grant for her first Christmas release, which Potter had on vinyl when she was 7 years old.

“I told my mom I was going to move to Nashville and find my husband,” she said. “That music just painted such a beautiful picture, I knew I wanted to record it. And I did move to Nashville and I did find my husband there.”

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