ABANDONED by her dad and shunned by British casting agents, Cynthia Erivo could have been forgiven for giving up.
But she didn't, and now the UK actress, largely unknown here , is close to making showbiz history as the youngest person to win an EGOT — a complete set of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.
With three in the bag already, Cynthia, 33, was this week nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role as real-life slave heroine Harriet Tubman in the film Harriet.
The actress, who grew up in council housing in Stockwell, South West London, had to seek success in America after a troubled start in this country.
But she now counts Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg among her pals and she is about to star as soul legend Aretha Franklin in an upcoming TV drama.
Though she regularly appears on magazine covers and top talk shows Stateside, Cynthia has not had such a warm embrace in her homeland — she didn't even get a Bafta nod for Harriet.
Her early attempt to break into UK telly flopped with an appearance on long-forgotten Channel 4 reality show Trust Me, I'm A Teenager and a small part in ITV period drama Mr Selfridge.
Hopes of a breakthrough as the lead in Simon Cowell and Harry Hill's £6million X Factor musical I Can't Sing were also dashed as the run closed after just seven weeks.
Yet those setbacks only increased the resilience of a woman who had to endure worse rejection as a child.
Her father walked out on the family when she was an infant. Then at 15, an attempt to get closer to him ended in heartbreak.
At a London Underground station her dad told her he did not want to see her or her younger sister Stephanie again. And he stuck true to his word.
Cynthia said: "We all have small things that affect our lives.
"I don't know that that is a trauma. And if it was, I learned how to deal with that trauma.
"I think it comes out in the roles I choose and the decisions I make."
Step-dad Samuel Uregbula, who married Cynthia's mum Edith in 1992, when Cynthia was five, told The Sun last night: "She hasn't let anything get her down.
"She has just worked hard.
"Cynthia loves Britain and she isn't bothered about having to go to America to succeed. Lots of actresses have to do that.
"I have known Cynthia since she was born.
"I have looked after her since she was little.
"She was always singing and dancing in front of the TV or the radio."
Edith, a community nurse, was so sure Cynthia would succeed that she wrote in a baby book that the tot would become a singer and an actress.
Cynthia said: "She seems to have homed in on what I was good at when I was two. I can't even remember that. At the same time she never pushed.
"It was just, 'Do what you love, make sure it makes you happy and make sure you work really hard at it'."
Cynthia joined a local youth theatre group at 11 and sang hymns at her Catholic church.
Samuel said: "I think she got her singing voice from her mum.
"Singing in church gave her the opportunity to practise.
"We were always taking her to drama classes."
Cynthia was 15 when Channel 4's reality show Trust Me, I'm A Teenager flopped.
And it was not until a year into a musical psychology degree, at the University of East London, that Cynthia realised her true calling was the stage.
A brilliant audition secured her a place at top acting school Rada.
Cynthia said: "I think Mum was happier than I was. I felt like she thought I had made the right decision for myself, for the right reasons."
Her powerful singing voice was soon impressing casting directors, and in 2013 she won a place in a British stage adaptation of The Color Purple — the 1985 movie that starred Whoopi Goldberg.
This was followed a year later by a lead role in X Factor musical I Can't Sing.
It proved to be an expensive flop — and left Cynthia unexpectedly out of work.
With only supporting roles on offer in Britain, she grabbed the chance to star in The Color Purple on Broadway in New York four years ago, alongside Dreamgirls actress Jennifer Hudson.
It was a move that transformed her fortunes and top honours came thick and fast.
In 2016 she scooped a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, followed by an Emmy for Outstanding Musical Performance in a Daytime Programme and then a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album.
In an emotional winner's speech at the Tony ceremony — America's most important theatre awards — Cynthia choked back tears as she pointed to her mum in the audience and said: "Hi, Mummy, look."
The elite ‘EGOT’ roll of honour
CYNTHIA already has an Emmy, Grammy and Tony. An Oscar would make her the youngest person to clinch an EGOT and part of an elite group that includes . . .
Composer Richard Rodgers at age 59 in 1962: One Best Song Oscar for State Fair, one Emmy, two Grammys, nine Tonys.
Actress Helen Hayes aged 76 in 1977: Two Oscars, including Best Actress for The Sin Of Madelon Claudet, one Emmy, one Grammy, three Tonys.
Actress Rita Moreno aged 45 in 1977: One Best Supporting Actress Oscar for West Side Story, two Emmys, one Grammy, one Tony.
Actor Sir John Gielgud aged 87 in 1991: One Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Arthur, one Emmy, one Grammy, three Tonys.
Actress Audrey Hepburn in 1994, a year after her death aged 63: One Best Actress Oscar for Roman Holiday, one Emmy, one Grammy, two Tonys.
Composer Marvin Hamlisch aged 51 in 1995: Three Best Music Oscars, including for The Sting, four Emmys, four Grammys, one Tony.
Composer Jonathan Tunick aged 59 in 1997: One Original Score Oscar for A Little Night Music, one Emmy, one Grammy, one Tony.
Actor and writer Mel Brooks aged 74 in 2001: One Best Screenplay Oscar for The Producers, four Emmys, three Grammys, three Tonys.
Director Mike Nichols aged 70 in 2001: One Oscar for The Graduate, four Emmys, one Grammy, nine Tonys.
Actress Whoopi Goldberg aged 46 in 2002: One Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ghost, three Emmys, one Grammy, one Tony.
Producer Scott Rudin aged 53 in 2012: One Best Picture Oscar for No Country For Old Men, one Emmy, one Grammy, 17 Tonys.
Songwriter Robert Lopez aged 39 in 2014: Two Original Song Oscars, including for Frozen's Let It Go, two Emmys, three Grammys, three Tonys.
Singer John Legend aged 39 in 2018: One Original Song Oscar for Selma, two Emmys, ten Grammys, one Tony.
Lyricist Tim Rice, aged 73 in 2018: Three Original Songwriting Oscars, for Aladdin, The lion King and Evita, one Emmy, five Grammys, three Tonys.
Proud Edith stood up in the crowd and applauded her daughter.
After the do, Cynthia added about her mum: "I've watched her since I was little and I've picked up on how hard she works, and the fire she has in her belly."
Yet despite proving herself on her New York stage debut, there was criticism in the US when Cynthia was cast as black American heroine Harriet Tubman because she is British. It could have been far worse for critics, though.
When the film's scriptwriter first pitched the idea back in 1994, a studio executive proposed white actress Julia Roberts for the role.
Born into slavery, Harriet escaped in 1849 before returning many times — despite a bounty on her head — to help free family and hundreds of others from forced labour.
In 1863 she became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the American Civil War, helping to free 750 slaves during the raid.
Harriet was destined to become the first African American to appear on a US bank note until President Donald Trump's administration ditched the plan in 2016.
Despite reservations about the Harriet role, Cynthia won over her critics with an all-action performance of grit and determination.
Filmed during the winter, she had to endure mud, rain and freezing temperatures as she carried out her own stunts.
Controversially, her talents have not been so well recognised back in Britain, where the movie was largely ignored following its release in November.
That was highlighted with Cynthia's failure to secure a Best Actress nod when the Bafta nominations were announced earlier this month.
It was an omission that added to accusations Bafta members are not ethnically diverse enough .
Cynthia's clean-cut image — she does not smoke or drink, only taking two sips of champagne after winning the Tony — adds to her allure in health-obsessed Hollywood.
She is also incredibly fit, spending hours in the gym and running a marathon in under four hours on her first attempt.
The actress is not your typical willowy lead, opting to bulk up to help demonstrate her strength.
She has said: "My body is muscular, and I won't shy away from it, which a lot of women are forced to do.
"I want to be an example for women who are afraid of their own strength and fitness to embrace it.
"I want to be able to do the Tom Cruise roles, the superhero roles."
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If Cynthia picks up the Oscar next month she will be a hero to millions.
None more so than her mum, who will be joining the actress at the ceremony in Los Angeles while Samuel watches from his home in Kent.
Samuel, who remains close to Cynthia despite splitting up with her mum a couple of years ago, speaks for many when he says: "We will all be cheering her on."
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