Rachel Crow isn’t into faux humility. “I really love singing, and it’s definitely my number one, but I love acting too, and I really want to be huge,” says the 13-year-old moppet, who finished fifth on Season 1 of The X Factor. “I’m not saying I’m going to be huge, because by any means I might not, but I definitely dream big.” TVLine caught up with Rachel to find out why she specalizes in songs about heartbreak, how she felt watching back her emotional collapse on TV, and what types of jokes she told in her former life as a standup comic.
Right from your audition, you became known as the girl who wanted her own bathroom.
I know. Ahhhh! [Laughs]
Could you ever have predicted that that line would follow you through the whole season? Was it something you’d planned to say before you went out there?
I did not practice what was going to happen on that stage. I was nervous, and to be honest, I never really had thought about what I wanted for myself, just what my family wanted. The idea just flooded out of me: “My own bathroom?”
We got to see you cover “If I Were a Boy” at Boot Camp. And what strikes me is that a lot of your best performances are songs about heartbreak, about women done wrong. I wonder how, at 13, you can tap into those emotions so well.
I guess I have the ability to feel empathy for other people. I put myself in their shoes, and then I try and do that song as good as I can do it. I love singing a slow, heartbreak kind of song. It’s really what I get into, and it’s fun.
Where does your mind go when you’re performing a song like that? Do you go blank, or are you thinking about every word that’s coming out of your mouth? Where is your brain?
It’s weird. I am thinking of every word. But at the same time I’m blank. So everything that happens, every second, just automatically goes to the delete shelf, you know? I’ll be singing — one second gone, two seconds gone — it’s really a weird feeling. Then when I watch it back, I’m like, “Oh, that’s what happened. Oh yeah, that’s pretty cool.”
For Top 16 week, you did a mashup of “Where Did Our Love Go” and “Baby.” Drew Ryniewicz had already auditioned with “Baby” at the start of the season. Did you guys talk about that at all?
Nobody knows, but this is what happened: I was going to do “Forget You” mixed with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” And it was going to be amazing and exciting, and the set was going to be beautiful. Then, the day before the show, Simon changed my song to “Baby.”
I don’t know. I thought something funny was going to happen [the day the change was made], because I kept asking, “Can I go on stage now? Can I go on stage now?” I was backstage, and they wouldn’t let me [rehearse], and then finally they took me into a room, and they told me they were changing the song. I did the best I could, but honestly, it was not my favorite. I think that was my weakest performance.
There was also a little debate at the judges’ table the following week, when you changed the lyric for “Walking on Sunshine” to “You’re My Sunshine.” Were you totally on board with that decision?
I knew it was Gamu’s version, but she was from British X Factor, and I liked the version a lot. I wanted to do that because, with my background of heartbreak songs, I thought I could really tap into that, even thought it’s a fast-tempo song. So, when [Simon] said [to the other judges], “You know, it’s called being creative,” I was like, “Oh no.” I love him, but you could see in my eyes I was saying, “Oh no, it was not my version [originally].” Drew and I, we’re very alike, and together we’re really funny about taking other people’s versions [of songs]. So when we did that ["You're My Sunshine"], it was a little awkward, of course, but I actually had a nice time up on that stage, so no matter what happened, I had fun.
At that point in the competition, Simon was getting a lot of feedback from the other judges like, “You’ve got to let Rachel show off her vocals.” And the following week, you picked “I’d Rather Go Blind.” How hard were you pushing to pick your own song at that point?
Honestly, I had to fight so hard to get them to let me pick my song. I had to plant the idea the week I sang “Walking on Sunshine.” We were rehearsing “Sunshine,” and [the producers] were like, “Rachel, let’s start thinking about some songs for you for next week.” So I was throwing out stuff from movies. I wasn’t really thinking about Cadillac Records, but I knew ["I'd Rather Go Blind"] was on that soundtrack. Then this girl sings out, “There’s some great stuff from Cadillac Records.” I said, “’I’d Rather Go Blind.’ That’s the song.” They were like, “That might be a little big for you.” So I sang it for them, and they were like, “This is the song. But we’ll still have to see, we’ll have to think about it.” So, every day I was like, “Can I do my song? Can I do my song?” Then the Friday morning after “Walking on Sunshine,” they came into the room and said, “You get to do your song.” So I was really excited for that, and I think, honestly, that was one my best performances ever.
During Michael Jackson week, I felt like your energy was really strange, and even when you were done, you said something along the lines of, “I did the best I could with the song I had.” But there seemed to be a lot that you weren’t saying. What went on with that particular performance?
Well, that week was a little bit difficult for me. The song that I had originally told them I wanted to do, and I told them everything about how I wanted to do it, somebody else got that song, including the whole setting. That was a little hard for me. But it’s okay. I mean, I was just a little sad. I know I was singing “Can You Feel It?” but I wasn’t really feeling it. I know that’s kind of funny.
That’s really crazy. Who ended up getting your song?
I can’t really say.
Okay, well then let’s talk about your “Save Me” performance. That night, watching you and Marcus singing, I felt like it made a case that every time anyone goes on that stage ever, they should be brought the brink of emotional collapse before they sing. It was just unbelievable. Was it hard for you to concentrate when you had to sing for your life? And what do you think made your performance so powerful and passionate?
Well, when I found out I was in the Bottom 2, I ran backstage crying. I was so upset. But then I quickly pulled myself together. I had Savan Kotecha, the vocal coach, handing me my lyrics and putting his computer in my other hand saying, “Here, listen with the headphones to your song.” And I said, “You know, I think it’s better if I don’t, so I can just put everything I have into that and not have to be practiced.” The song was kind of a cry for help, like “Please, save me.” During the commercial break, Paula came up to me and said, “Sing the heck out of that song. Do the best you can, because I know you can do this, it’s okay.” And then Nicole, I gave her a hug, and she said, “You can do this, you know.” And I said, “Please don’t let me go home.” [Laughs] But I want to clear the air: Lots of people said it was a little bit of a cockiness, [the way I was] shocked when I went home. But the doctor said it was a minor faint, from all the pressure. I was just so sad, and I kind of fell, and in my eyes you could see me being like, “What do I do now?” You know, it was definitely hard, but when I sang “I’d Rather Go Blind” that second time, I put everything I had into it, and I think that it’s safe to say that was my best performance I had ever done. I admit at the end I blew my voice because I was pushing so hard and crying at the same time; the last babies — “baby, baby, baby!” — the last couple, I couldn’t get up there and hit the note, because my voice was gone. I felt like collapsing after that song because I was so into it. [Laughs]
So the collapse was coming.
Yes, the collapse was coming.
How did you feel when you watched it back?
Watching it back, I cried. I really did. It’s stupid, but I felt really bad. I was kind of like, “Wow, Rachel, you really overplayed that one, didn’t you?” I was sad, though, because I was like, “Oh my gosh, that was bad. Wow.” But you have no idea how many times that Friday afterwards I heard [the episode played back, with Steve Jones saying], “Rachel Crow!” And then me going, “Ahhhhrrr!” I heard it so many times. I was about to go crazy. But it was kind of like therapy, just hearing it over and over again. So now I can watch it and laugh, which is okay. “Ha-ha! Look, I just fell!”
Online, the day after your elimination, there were some people saying, “Drew’s tears during her elimination, and Rachel’s collapse, this is all proof that these kids are too young to be on a show like The X Factor, and that they need to raise the age limit.” What would you say to that?
Honestly, I do not agree, and I’m so glad that Simon made the decision and not them. Because there are certain kids in this world that have that special spark — like Drew, like me, like Astro. And I believe we all have a special spark in our eyes, and each of us have a little bit or all of the X Factor. Honestly, age is just a number. During this X Factor experience, I’ve seen adults that are crying on the floor, cursing, upset, screaming at the world or the judges, and then I see 14-year-olds and 13-year-olds like me over in the corner with their moms and dads saying, “It’s going to be okay. I’ll go far.” You know, crying but still not going crazy.
I was fascinated by that mention late in the season that you used to do standup comedy. I was like, “When? When she was 6?” Tell me a little about your comedy career.
When I was 10 or 11, maybe even 12, I just loved making people laugh. It was fun, and I got pretty positive crowd reactions. I performed at LA Improv too many times to count. I was part of the first group of kids to go to Vegas and perform at Harrah’s casino. I think that’s where I got my comeback from, when L.A. asked about who I was singing “Beautiful Girls” to. I’m very quick, so I just pointed and said, “Paula and Nicole.”
Do you have a favorite go-to joke that you still remember from your stand-up days?
Yes! Okay, so, here we go. So everybody knows I was born a crack baby and that I was adopted, right? So, my mom, my dad, my sister, and I were in the store one day, and this lady walks up to my mom. She looks at my dad, looks at my sister, looks at my mom, looks at me, and goes, “Were you married before?” Like this is a true story. And my mom goes, “My husband doesn’t know this, but the UPS guy was just so hot!” [Howls with laughter] I just laughed and laughed and laughed.