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Wales Online
Sam Cook

Sophie Evans shares odd feedback Simon Cowell gave her after being snubbed on The X Factor

The career of Welsh musical theatre star Sophie Evans seems to have grown from strength to strength ever since her stint on BBC talent show Over the Rainbow in 2010. Things weren’t always destined to go that way, though, and an unsuccessful appearance on The X Factor almost put a pin in things before they’d even started.

Sophie, who was born in Tonypandy but lives in Cardiff, recalled her time on the former ITV mega show in an interview with the WalesOnline podcast In the Spotlight, remembering how TV’s ‘Mr Nasty’ Simon Cowell once gave her some odd feedback. “Being from the Valleys, there’s not a massive opportunity,” she said. “I was very lucky that I was in a theatre group when I was younger but Simon Cowell doesn’t walk through Treorchy. You have to go out and try to become something. In my head, I just thought, go out and try every opportunity. When [The X Factor] lowered the age to 14, I could finally go on there.

“I was never under any illusion that I could ever win it. I was just trying to get opportunities. When I went on there, I did get to boot camp and it was a really good experience. I remember Simon Cowell saying something along the lines of, ‘You don’t quite know who you really are yet’, and I just went, yeah you’re right, I’m 14 and I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing.” Listen to In the Spotlight with Sophie Evans below.

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Over the Rainbow was the fourth in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s BBC talent shows to find the lead in one of his West End shows. In Sophie’s series, which aired in 2010, hopefuls competed to play Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. Just 17 years old at the time of filming, Sophie came runner-up to winner Danielle Hope.

Sophie, who attended Tonypandy Community College, initially wanted to carry on with her schooling prior to landing a role on Over the Rainbow. “I was doing my GCSEs and I remember going to my headteacher and saying that I was auditioning and that I’d need a day off school if I got through. She said, ‘Yeah of course’. And then I told her that if I got through that then I’d need a week off school and if I got through that then I didn’t know whether I was coming back to school or not. The school was so supportive.”

Speaking about the experience of being on the programme, she added: “They liked the fact that I was this small town Welsh girl and they really played that narrative. We were all so young and we got whisked away to London. They were making a TV programme so they had people from all over because they wanted the whole country to watch and that’s how you do that.

“We became really good friends and there was very little competition between us all. Like any TV show, they did try to make it a thing by interviewing us and asking us who we thought would go each week. There was a week where we all made a pact together. They were going to ask us that question and we knew that was going to happen so we all picked a different person so none of us looked like a cow!”

Sophie described how the group occasionally still talk to this day. She recalled how, during lockdown, it was the 10-year anniversary of the series' final. “I contacted everyone and I said it’d be amazing if we could all do something together. Originally I’d have loved to have done a concert, maybe the Palladium because that’s where The Wizard of Oz was, but we were in Covid so that wasn’t possible. We had a couple of Zooms and there’s no kind of animosity between anybody.”

The years that followed after Over the Rainbow were very busy for Sophie, who would continue to make numerous stage and screen appearances. “I remember being amazed at the opportunities coming my way during that time,” she says. “I’m lucky that I’m from a very grounded family and they’ve made sure that I’ve stayed very grounded and to really appreciate every opportunity because you never know how long it is going to last. I remember singing with Rhydian from The X Factor and we did a duet and I was just blown away by his voice. But then you get to a point where you think, I am in the same league as these people and I need to be professional.

“Personally I’ve never wanted to be famous or have that crazy life. I just want to sing and I want to be recognised for my singing talent and if I can earn money and travel the world at the same time, that’s amazing for me but you do need that level of people knowing who you are. It needs to come hand in hand but also I didn’t want to be blown to success and take over the world. I’ve never been that ambitious and maybe that is to my detriment but I’ve always kind of liked where I’m at.”

Welsh of the West End appeared on Britain's Got Talent last year (ITV)

In 2022, Sophie returned to the world of reality TV when she performed alongside Welsh of the West End on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent. She did say that ahead of returning to the genre in which she made her name, she was "sceptical" as she had already carved out a name for herself. She explained: “Welsh of the West End came together in lockdown and it was one of these things that was born out of really negative times. When it all finished, we were happy we could finally sing together and BGT approached the group. As someone who has been on a reality show, I was a little bit sceptical because I thought that we’d done really well on YouTube and we can continue to do concerts together. I was in Wicked at the time and I have a career and a level of professionalism that I need to stay at so it could’ve been bad. But for me, it was a really lovely experience and we got to do the live shows, which was really awesome.”

TV presenting is where, Sophie thinks, her career is headed. “I still want to sing, I absolutely love singing but now I’m a mother, I can’t quite see a world where I can dip in and out of theatre and do eight shows a week. I actually prefer being myself than being a character. I prefer singing as myself and I sometimes get imposter syndrome when it comes to acting because I have to work a little bit more with it. I’ve dipped my toe in presenting a bit and I’m just getting a bit of a showreel together and hoping that door is going to open a little bit more.”

As mentioned, Sophie was born and raised in the Rhondda Valley. She is one of the two daughters of David and Michelle Evans. According to her, she was always destined to have a career on the stage and described how she has memories of doing 'shows' for her parents as a child. She elaborated: "I was a very confident kid and if anything, I feel that as we get older then we get more nervous and question more things. When I was a child I was very front and centre and I had no fear at all, which was quite funny for my family. I just became quite good at it and I remember being in school and I auditioned for Grease, where I was playing the part of Sandy and I sang it like I was Olivia Newton-John, riffing and really giving it.”

Last year, Sophie married her long-time partner Ellis Jenkins in an intimate ceremony in Cardiff. It was to be the first of two weddings for the singer, who is set to get married again in Ibiza in the future. Speaking of this, she said: “We always wanted to get married in Ibiza because we’ve been there a couple of times and I find it the most romantic, beautiful and picturesque place. After doing a bit of research because I knew nothing about marriage, I didn’t realise that you can’t really get officially legally married in Spain and you have to do a lot of things to be able to do that so I thought, let's just do the legal side here and go to the registry office and then we’ll have the wedding in Ibiza.

“It became a bit more of a thing and I thought, if we’re having a day in Cardiff then we may as well make it a bit more of a celebration. We had 30 people and we went to Thomas by Tom Simmons for food afterwards in Pontcanna and it was a very relaxed day. I was pregnant so I couldn’t have anything to drink and I went home quite early while everyone else went out. Ibiza is the celebration of us and that was the sign on the dotted line kind of thing.”

Sophie and Ellis met when they were both 18 years old. She said that despite being with each other for 12 years, the pair have had their ups and downs and even had a “sabbatical” in the middle of their relationship. “When we were about 23 or 24, we went separate ways for just over a year and then realised, 'you are the love of my life' and we are meant to be together. The rest is history.”

Sophie with husband Ellis and baby Jack (Sophie Evans/Instagram)

In December 2022, Sophie gave birth to the couple's first child, Jack, and she has admitted that the whole experience has been a "whirlwind". She added: “I love children and I’ve wanted to be a mother for such a long time. It is everything I thought it would be and more. Yes, there’s sleepless nights and yes, they cry but also there are so many positives. When he looks at you and just smiles I just think, oh my gosh, I am literally his carer and he can’t do anything without me or his dad. That responsibility is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

At the time of the interview, Sophie had only just come back from her first holiday with baby Jack. Despite having some reservations about taking the little one on a long flight, she said she was pleasantly surprised. “We went with a big group of friends and they also had a couple of children themselves so we had extra hands, which was great. He slept like a little angel on the plane both times, on the way there and the way back, and he just got onboard with the heat too

“I’ve been on planes where you hear a baby crying the whole time and most of the time my brain thinks, oh those poor parents, they must be thinking that everyone is listening to their baby. My biggest thing was the flight because Tenerife is quite a long flight and I just thought that it could be a nightmare. It could’ve been me and Ellis pacing up and down the aisle trying to get him to calm down!”

In terms of what’s next for her, Sophie said that aside from a couple of concerts, she is mainly focusing on enjoying life as a mother. “I’ve wanted a baby for so long so I never wanted to be like, my baby is out and I then go back to work. I also understand, though, that if I don’t keep my foot there then I can be forgotten about and the next person will come along and take the work. It’s competitive so you have to keep your eye on the prize but also, I’m enjoying my little boy as well.”

Listen to more episodes of In the Spotlight:

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