From a singing role as Mary in the school nativity to being one step away from the live stages of the X Factor: it’s been quite a six years for Olivia Garcia.
This weekend millions of ITV viewers will see how the Orrell 16-year-old fares in the Judges’ Houses stage of television’s most popular talent show.
Her six-day stay at chief judge and musical Svengali Simon Cowell’s luxury home in Malibu, California, has already been filmed.
But of course the St John Rigby College student is sworn to secrecy over the outcome. We will just have to wait to see if Cowell - along with celebrity guest judges and former Spice Girls Emma Bunton and Mel B - decided if Olivia has what it takes to get to make the final 12 acts who are then eliminated one by one, week after week by a national phone vote until the December final.
Whatever the result though, Olivia says that she has already had a blast. Down to earth and with loyal support from parents Simon and Steph and 14-year-old sister Emily, she has clearly made the most of this high profile adventure and, come what may this weekend, it has given her incalculable experience in her quest to become a professional singer.
She said: “It has been just so amazing. I have learned so much in the last few months about the music industry, about singing, about how to cope with nerves from some of the best people in the business. It has been the experience of a lifetime.”
It’s easy to forget Olivia’s young age. Much of the audition and selection process for the X Factor went on in tandem with her GCSEs at Up Holland High School.
Indeed she says that one reason why her first appearance before the famous quartet of judges - Cowell, Nicole Scherzinger, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh - didn’t go as well as she hoped was because she had been revising for her history exam the following morning rather than rehearsing Alicia Keys’s Empire State of Mind.
But while the panel had reservations about Olivia’s song choice, her natural talent and experience from three years of public performance saw her through. Oh, and she got an A in her history too.
Olivia says she made the career decision to be a singer at the age of 13.
Three years earlier she had landed the part of Mary at Orrell New Fold Primary School which required her to sing.
She enjoyed it, people said nice things about her voice but she didn’t do anything about it other than to carry on singing to herself, sometimes along with her favourite tracks. These included hits by Leona Lewis whom Olivia remembers winning the X Factor when the latter was just six and to whom she credits her root inspiration for wanting to become a singer. She collected all of Lewis’s albums then also took a shine to the music of Beyonce and Whitney Houston.
But the clinching moment as far as Olivia’s musical ambitions were concerned, came at an evening at the White Lion pub in Up Holland where she took part in an open mic charity event in aid of Cancer Research.
Olivia, who was chaperoned to the event by her dad, shone. She said: “It was the best thing I had done because I had done a concert in front of a live audience. After that, singing was all I wanted to do.
“It was interracting with people, I loved the singing, the fact that it was helping charity and the response I got from the audience.
“After that the White Lion invited me back to do a little gig on a Saturday night and it all started from there really.”
Olivia began lessons with singing teacher to the stars Sheila Gott in Stockport who also encouraged her to join a harmony group called Mercy Young Stars in the town.
She didn’t mind the regular Tuesday night commutes there, in fact she relished them because she loved the singing, made lots of friends and was given plenty of performance experience, not least at Stockport’s Plaza Theatre. She fondly remembers Mercy Young Stars’ staging Sister Act and they would always share equally the starring roles and backing vocals which, she says, was all good practice.
Olivia began doing gigs in pubs more local to home and auditioned for the massive Open Mic UK competition which took her all the way to the final at Birmingham’s NEC two years ago. Of that time she recalls: “I was a bit worried to be honest. It was my first competition. I had done a few talent shows at my school but never anything big like that. But I told myself that I just had to go for it by thinking about how much I wanted it.”
She carried on over the next two years performing small gigs betwixt and between her GCSE studies.
And earlier this year she decided that now was the time to enter the X Factor. She turned up with many other hopefuls for an audition before the production team at Manchester’s Event City which went so well that she was recommended by the panel to perform before the celebrity judges at Emirates Old Trafford.
She said: “I was really nervous when I did that audition. I had found it difficult to balance revision with practising the song. I had a history GCSE exam the next morning so I didn’t practise the song as much as I would have liked.
“I chose the Alicia Keys song because it is one of my favourites and because it shows off my voice. But I panicked and did not do it or myself justice.”
The judges, though, recognised that they had a talent on their hands, Scherzinger noting that Olivia had a remarkably mature voice for her age.
And so she was through to boot camp and sacrifices needed to be made. The youngster was determined not to miss a Beyonce concert in Manchester for which she had tickets, but this then involved her travelling down to London over night afterwards to be there in time for boot camp at Alexandra Palace the next morning.
She did, however, have to miss her Up Holland High School prom. She reflects ruefully that her prom dress, on which her parents had spent a considerable amount of money, remains unworn in her wardrobe.
Due to the strictures of TV schedules, the boot camp stage of the contest for Olivia ended up on the cutting room floor, so fans were left wondering a couple of weekends ago what had happened to her. But for the record, she was teamed up with a girl group called Roxies and a soloist called Lya. As viewers will know, the contestants are faced with a Wall of Song - where they have a limited amount of time to pick a piece to perform for the judges. Olivia said: “It was really hard. I was really struggling to find anything I knew, let alone something that suited my voice. In the end I spotted Love on Top by Beyonce. It is really hard but I was stuck with it.”
She triumphed though and found herself through to last Saturday’s brutal Six Chair Challenge in front an audience of thousands at Wembley Arena.
Olivia was one of 11 young female singers vying for the half dozen places at Simon Cowell’s house.
Although it was nerve-racking, Olivia thinks it helped to have been the last to sing for the judges.
She said: “It was the scariest thing I have ever done but also one of the best things. Who would have thought a Wigan girl would be singing in front of Simon Cowell, thousands in the arena and millions on TV?
“The advantage of being last on was that I got to see all the other acts and know what it was I had to do to get one of those chairs.
“I became friends with most of the girls but the one I got on best with was Lewana whose seat I took. Of course I was really happy about getting the seat and to the judges’ houses but I felt really guilty for swapping with my friend and knocking her out.
“She was really supportive about it though. I sent her a message the day afterwards to say sorry and to ask her to stay in touch, and she sent me one back telling me to smash it at the judges’ houses.”
And so Olivia flew out to America with six other female contenders (Simon has since added a wildcard to their number). “We all got really close, not least because we were all away from our families and some had never been abroad before,” said Olivia. “We had a wonderful time in a fantastic place but it is really all about singing for Simon and giving him the best possible performance, because if not he might decide to send you home.”
Seven will be whittled down to three in Saturday evening’s episode. See how Olivia got on at 8pm.