SALT LAKE CITY — If you thought actress Rebecca Ferguson’s voice in the Hollywood musical “The Greatest Showman” was too good to be true, you were right.
The “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” star wasn’t shy in letting the public know during interviews that her vocal skills weren’t quite up to the task of portraying one of the 19th century’s biggest singing stars.
That task, instead, belonged to former Murray resident Loren Allred, who made a name for herself in 2012 while competing on “The Voice.”
“It was the chance of a lifetime; I was thrilled to be part of it,” said Allred of the opportunity to have her voice featured in collaboration with the acting skills of Ferguson, calling the pairing “a perfect match.”
In the movie, Ferguson plays Jenny Lind, a 19th-century singing sensation who falls in love with P.T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman. During an emotional and intense ballad, the actress lip-syncs to Allred’s soaring vocals.
The song, “Never Enough,” has since become the No. 1 viral song on Spotify in the U.S. and globally.
Allred, 28, is now a New York resident, and she said she enjoys working behind the scenes and credits her work on “The Greatest Showman” as a game-changer for her career.
“No one could have played that role as well as Rebecca did. She nailed it, and she has been so gracious and vocal about praising my work,” Allred said. “I’m really happy that the show decided to put the music first. It mattered to the director that the song was executed well instead of hoping it could ride on star power.”
Allred may not be a Hollywood heavyweight, but she once had a taste of the spotlight during her stint on NBC’s vocal competition, where she joined “Team Adam” and competed in the finals of "The Voice."
“It was an amazing experience, but for an introverted person it was mentally exhausting, just high anxiety all the time,” Allred said, describing feelings of being “picked apart” during the show. The producers said she didn’t act bubbly enough, and she felt she didn’t fit the persona they had in mind for her.
“I started to feel like something was wrong with me, and I longed for a regular life again. The part I played in ‘The Greatest Showman,’” she said, struggling to fight back emotion, “is on my terms, and it actually is … enough, you know?”
Finding her voice in a family of singers
Immersed in music from a young age, Allred and her three younger sisters moved from Pennsylvania to Utah when she was 14 years old. Her father is Salt Lake Choral Artists conductor Dr. Brady Allred, and her mother is renowned classical soprano Dr. Carol Ann Allred. The couple married during their early studies at Brigham Young University in the 1980s.
“I had music around me at all times,” Allred said. “I’d wake up in the morning to the sounds of my mom teaching voice lessons downstairs, and sometimes I tagged along to my dad’s work at (the University of Utah) to watch him conduct. I often watched them in concert together — my mom singing solos with my dad’s choir.”
Allred’s parents are convinced her penchant for music took form at an even earlier stage.
“We felt that Loren was destined to love music because Carol Ann was pregnant with her while performing as the soloist for Mozart’s C Minor Mass,” said her laughing dad, Brady Allred, who conducted the piece for his doctoral concert. “So there she was, inside of her mom listening to all these arias for days on end.”
While she grew up with a deep appreciation for the classical genre, Loren Allred said it was the discovery of a Mariah Carey cassette tape that changed things.
“I started listening to that and got excited in a new way because at my house it was mostly just classical and choral stuff,” she said. “I fell in love with Celine Dion and Toni Braxton's albums and as I’d try out my voice on these songs, I sounded better than I expected.”
And while her parents say they supported her departure from the classical genre, they laughingly admit there were some bumps in the road.
“When our daughters came home for Christmas recently, they reminded us of a time when Brady heard Loren struggling to belt-sing down in her room. That’s what you have to do when you’re trying new things sometimes — you make some bad sounds,” explained Carol Ann Allred. “So, he went downstairs in a huff, saying, ‘You’re hurting yourself!’”
Their daughter eventually did find her way to a pop-and-soul sound that suited her voice, training under several teachers other than her parents, who said they wanted to remain part of her cheering section rather than becoming her critics.
“Loren figured out the whole pop, belt-singing thing herself. That’s not something I do in classical anyway,” said Carol Ann Allred. “One time we went to a performance she was soloing in at school and during her number, Brady and I just looked at each other amazed and said, 'Where did that come from?’”
Singing for the world
Upon graduation from Cottonwood High School, Loren Allred said she was certain she wanted to become a recording artist. In the following years, she completed a year in musical theater from Weber State University, was crowned “Murray Idol” as the city’s top voice and then successfully auditioned for Boston’s Berklee College of Music, which helped nurture her bluesy-pop sound.
At 19, Allred uploaded some songs to YouTube and was discovered by Grammy Award-winning record producer Ne-Yo, which ultimately led her to sign with the Island Def Jam label. Allred traded her life in Boston for one in New York City, and producers of “The Voice” soon approached the label looking for unearthed talent and saw Allred as the perfect candidate.
After the show, Allred gravitated toward studio work. In 2014, she was invited to record demos and sing in “The Greatest Showman” ensemble for the little-known songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, whose breakout successes with the movie musical “La La Land” in 2015 and the 2016 Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” were just around the corner.
Allred said she was “over the moon” to be asked to sing in the ensemble, but she had no idea they might actually use her torch-singing vocals for a solo in the movie.
“They were writing ‘Never Enough’ with me in the room, and it was such a difficult song — it demands your entire range,” Allred recalled. “They laid down the melody, threw me in the booth and we recorded a scratch demo,” meaning a rough recorded draft of a song that eventually gets re-recorded by the star.
But something was different this time.
“People started saying there was a good chance I might be Rebecca’s voice,” Allred said. “But in this industry, we get used to things getting pulled out from under us, so I didn’t believe it at all until they had me meet with her, listen to her accent and watch recordings.”
Ferguson hails from Sweden like her character in the movie, nicknamed “The Swedish Nightingale,” Jenny Lind, so Allred was charged with singing the song in a Swedish accent.
In an interview with Collider last month, Ferguson discussed lip-syncing “Never Enough” and raved about Allred’s performance.
“She is the most incredible singer. I am an actress and that is what I trained to do,” she was quoted as saying in the publication. “There is a difference in being able to sing a tune and hold it and do a fairly good job … (and to) play the world’s best opera singer … I just told her, ‘Loren, you go for it, girl.’”
Allred will never forget when the movie’s director, Michael Gracey, played the edited scene for her, in which Ferguson’s lips were moving in time with Allred’s voice.
“At that point it was real and I was bawling because you work and work and things don’t happen. So for this to become bigger than I had expected …,” she trailed off, then continued, “it’s been a dream.”
Allred, who receives full credit on the soundtrack, said she has received messages from people all over the world letting her know they love the song.
“The big dramatic ballad isn’t as stylish in the pop world right now,” she said. “But people were coming out of the woodwork from everywhere — Canada, Korea, China — saying ‘we love it, we miss those big ballads.'”
While she is being courted by various labels who have recently come knocking on her door, she has engagements to sing with Aaron Tveit at the Lincoln Center next month as well as with several orchestras and private events. She also has a project in the works with “The Greatest Showman’s” soundtrack producer.
“I’m just enjoying the freedom to do things on my terms,” she said of her success.
With recent triumphs like “La La Land” and now “The Greatest Showman,” it seems the public’s appetite for the Hollywood musical is still voracious. That’s good news for Allred, who has what she describes as a “natural chemistry” with the popular new songwriters behind both musicals, nicknamed “Pasek and Paul.”3 comments on this story
But even that duo doesn’t hold a candle to what Allred describes as her greatest source of musical admiration — her parents. They remain happily in her cheering section and thrilled to see her getting the recognition they think she deserves.
“I went to a choir rehearsal at a high school the other day and the girls were just screaming because I’m Loren’s father,” said Brady Allred. “'Course, then one of the girls asked me, ‘Can you get us (“The Greatest Showman” actor) Zac Efron’s phone number?’ Such is fame, I guess,” he joked.