‘X Factor’ phenom and her brother talk music, TV and being No. 1
Carly and Russ Sonenclar, earlier this fall, before Carly’s meteoric “X Factor” rise. Courtesy Terri Edelman.
If she were like most 13-year-olds, Carly Rose Sonenclar might have given her brother, Russ, a card for his 19th birthday last week.
But Carly, the Mamaroneck musical phenom who is taking “The X Factor” by storm, is not like most 13-year-olds. Instead, she put him on national TV and sang to him.
Last Wednesday, she dedicated her performance of “Over the Rainbow” to Russ, a University of Delaware sophomore who showed up in Los Angeles unexpectedly and was in the packed house on national TV when Carly brought the audience to its feet.
Then, on Thursday, she learned that she had won the week for the first time, garnering the most votes in a nationwide tally, over country-singing dad (and perennial No. 1) Tate Stevens and the other six acts still in the competition.
On Friday, the Sonenclars – parents Bob and Terri, and Carly and Russ – celebrated a belated Thanksgiving in Los Angeles. On Saturday, Russ and Carly called me to catch up, after an eventful week.
Russ, who was president of the Rye Neck High School Class of 2011, is pursuing a double major in communications and business at Delaware.
“I want to do something in the world of social-media and marketing,” he told me. “I dream of having my own start-up company.”
As her de-facto personal social-media manager, Russ announced proudly that Carly, who began the whole “X Factor” journey with fewer than 1,000 followers, is now more than 250,000.
“I hope to sign her as my first client,” he joked. “I think we’ll be able to work it out.”
Seeing Carly rise on “The X Factor,” he says, has been “pretty surreal.”
“Being out here and getting to spend some time with her and seeing what goes on backstage, it definitely made it more like real life, but it’s still, overall, pretty crazy.”
Add to that the fact that she sang a personal song to him, in front of millions on TV, and the crazy factor is ratcheted up a bit, said Russ, who also sings and plays guitar and drums.
“I’ve heard her sing for years, but to have it dedicated to me and to see the reaction of of millions of people from all over the world made it really awesome for me,” he said.
Last Thursday’s show also included a very emotional exit by New Jersey 13-year-old Beatrice Miller, who wept through her final song and was devastated at being sent home. I asked Russ if seeing that made him worry about how Carly might handle being sent home.
“To be honest with you, at this point, I’m not too worried about what happens with the show,” he said. “The benefits she has gotten and the publicity she’s been able to have from the show has been so valuable, whether she comes in eighth place or first place at this point it doesn’t matter. I know she’ll have great success in whatever she pursues.”
She’s still pretty level-headed, her brother said, joking that he tries to keep her that way through “physical power.”
“We try to keep it all in perspective and appreciate everything we have and how fortunate we are.”
When Carly got on the line, she talked about being last week’s top vote-getter, after weeks being runner-up to Stevens.
“It was pretty crazy having Tate and me be the top two again,” she said. “When we walked up to Khloe and Mario, we were both laughing.”
She talked about how last week’s song—“Over the Rainbow”—was chosen:
“The Sony people and the producers came in with a list and then Britney came in with a list, but ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ wasn’t on it. It was with the Sony people. When we were going through the songs and we happened upon that one, we just stopped. We didn’t even keep going because we knew that that was the one.
“Then, weirdly, (the Sony people) got a call from Britney who didn’t know that we were looking at it and she said we should work on ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and we were like ‘Oh, we already did.’ At that point, we knew it was the song.”
It’s a song first sung by Judy Garland when she was a teen-ager, in “The Wizard of Oz,” so perhaps Garland was looking down on the 13-year-old?
“That’s what I like to think,” Carly said.
Carly offered a glimpse into her work week out west, far from Rye Neck High School, where she’s an eighth-grader.
On Saturday, she worked a few hours, but normally, it’s “about waking up early and working on songs or choreography or getting filmed for reality” (those moments when the acts are kicking back and talking about their hopes and dreams, or dedicating their songs). “There are tons of different things to do, like school or, at the house we’re staying in, there’ll be a camera crew there to do reality or the vocals there.
“Usually as it gets closer to Wednesday, we’ll start to do choreography and soundchecks and camera blocking.”
When we spoke on Saturday, she hadn’t yet heard which song she’ll sing tonight.
“We’re going to find out this afternoon,” she said.
The schedule gives her just four days to perfect every aspect of her performance.
She said Miller’s emotional exit didn’t really register with her when she was on the set, but when she watched it later on TV, it really hit home.
“When it was happening, it was extremely sad, but it was hard to really watch it and see her, even though she was near us. Seeing her after, she was just so defeated and it was hard to see her like that. And watching it back, it was just awful. I couldn’t look at her without starting to cry.”
She doesn’t worry about how she might handle being sent home.
“This experience has been so great. No matter what happens from this point I think that something will come from this. I think it has gone so well that I hope someone will say ‘I think she deserves to go somewhere.’ It would very hard to leave all this, but I’d know that I’d had a great run and it’s been such a great thing.”
The two remaining teens are Carly and Diamond White, who was voted off, but then brought back for the live shows.
As for their mentor, Britney Spears, Carly says the star’s advice that has stayed with her is to always be confident.
She said she misses her friends and “I kind of miss school. Not working, but being there.”
As for why the show identifies the Mamaroneck teen as being from “Westchester, NY,” it’s “for safety reasons,” she says.
On Dec. 20, the competition will be over and the winner will be offered a $5 million recording contract.
But Carly is taking it one week at a time.
And her week starts tonight, with another performance at 8 p.m. on Fox.
Here’s hoping co-hosts Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian Odom have studied up on the last name of Westchester’s singing sensation. They’ve had their problems pronouncing Carly’s last name: Kardashian Odom routinely calls Carly “Sonaclar,” while Lopez called her “Sonenblerg” last week.
“We had a laugh about that,” Russ said. “It was too funny.”