School for stars

If anyone knows about rejection it’s Anthony Callea.

He lost Australian Idol to Casey Donovan in front of more than 4 million people (including regional viewers). In fact he very nearly didn’t even make the 2004 Top 12 finalists. After lucking out in his Semi Final he got a lifeline in the show’s Wildcard episode. Yet, after daring to sing The Prayer, he would eventually eke out a career with the fastest selling Australian single of all time.

Now on the other side of the audition panel for FOX8’s reality series Ultimate School Musical: Fame, he knows what it’s like having to let people down gently.

“It was a bit weird,” he tells TV Tonight. “I sat on panel and auditioned about 160 kids. So for me that was a first and I actually felt a little bit sorry for them. Obviously I know what it’s like to stand on that side of the desk. I’m usually on the other side, not sitting there judging.”

Callea serves as Vocal Coach on the series which leads a group of high school students through an intensive series of singing, dancing and acting classes, culminating in a public performance of the musical Fame.

“With the first few kids that came to the audition I actually said to myself, ‘How on earth am I going to get through this?’

“It killed me, it totally killed me because I had to say ‘No’ to most of them, and I don’t like getting a ‘No’ myself when I go to an audition,” he says.

“But at the end of the day we did have to remember they are kids. They are 12 to 18 year olds who never actually went to school and said ‘I wanna be on stage at the Regent Theatre.’ We actually invaded their school and said ‘You’re the school that we’ve chosen to put on a musical, so now come to us and audition for us and we’ll tell you if you are good enough.'”

The students in the series come from Essendon-Keilor College in northern Melbourne. Most of the students come from working class and multicultural families.

“It was a lot harder than what I expected it to be. It was great working with the kids but this is not a performing arts school. This is just an everyday school in Essendon and we’re working with kids who had never walked on a stage before,” says Callea.

“They’d never sung before, had never acted before, had never danced before. So they were totally raw and within a few weeks we needed to put on a full blown stage musical at the Regent Theatre. So how were we going to do this?”

Joining him for the task were performer-writer Eddie Perfect (Shane Warne: The Musical, Keating: The Musical) as Director, choregrapher Kelly Aykers (So You Think You Can Dance Australia) and host Ruby Rose (MTV, The 7PM Project).

The stage musical Fame, currently playing in Melbourne, is based on the 1980 movie which in turn inspired the hit television series of the same name. It features former Dance contestants Talia Fowler, ‘Timomatic’, Marko Panzic, and BJ Rork, plus actors Andrew McFarlane and Brian Wenzel. Creatives from the production, including director Kelley Abbey and producer John Frost will appear across the FOX8 series.

Callea wouldn’t be drawn on what cross-promo deals, if any, were at play between Foxtel and the Melbourne musical, but admits he didn’t have much say in the choice of material.

“We didn’t have any say in the show that we were doing. It worked obviously because John Frost is doing it, they teamed it in with a musical which is currently going to happen. So it makes sense because it actually had some relevance to why the kids were doing it. But we didn’t really have any say in what musical we were doing,” he says.

Having already watched the UK version of the show, Callea says he walked into this production with a fresh approach. Amongst the group that was selected to comprise the Fame company, the former singing teacher says they uncovered some budding talent.

“We did find a couple of singers in there. So it did make my job a little easier when it came to some of the leads. Still, it was a bit of task for me and something that I haven’t really done before.

“At the end of it all they really appreciated us going to their school and spending time with them and giving them this opportunity. You could tell they appreciated it. They were really good kids, all of them. To have a group of 20 something kids to work with, and all of them be appreciative, it was great,” he says.

“It never really felt like a chore.”

Ultimate School Musical: Fame airs 7:30pm tonight on FOX8.


  1. Agree PD. Way too much self indulgent Ruby Rose on the show… I think she forgets she has a team around her, who actually know something about putting on a musical!

    I really like the honesty of the show, well as much as you can in ‘reality TV’, and thought Anthony and the experts were all humble in what they cold do with amateur kids, but Ruby’s “I think, I feel, me me me” didn’t help.

    PS: “I’ve always wanted to put on a school musical”. Really, or did Foxtel just ring you about a gig?

  2. As expected so far the show has been fun to watch,and i will stick to my original comment posted a while back,best reality show in a long while

  3. I thought the idea of watching real kids audition for a high school musical was fun, but I found we spent too much time hearing about how worried Ruby Rose was about the whole thing. Less Ruby more of the kids and this show can only get better.

  4. Loved the first show, very heartwarming, I was delightfully surprised at how natural Anthony was in this type of role. He was great the whole cast were. Look forward to the future episodes and seeing the kids go through their paces to the great finale.

  5. Great interview David. Good to read an article about the actual show for a change instead of Ruby Rose’s personal life. Can’t wait to watch it tonight and especially see Anthony Callea back on TV and with Eddie and Kelly on board it sounds like it will be a very good production.

  6. These kids from EKC must be over the moon about the show starting tonight. Great cast & great concept, pity it’s up against some of big shows on the commercial chanels tonight, but I know what I’ll be watching. Good interview with Anthony as well.

  7. Great interview, I’m really looking forward to its debut tonight, I think its going to be fantastic, with one of the most wonderful voices in the country, Kelly Aykers is one of the best choreographers and with Eddie Perfect directing its such a talented cast with Ruby presenting. I’m really please that Anthony Callea is one of the mentors/judges his talent is so underrated and he out of everyone has been there, its so good that he can relate to what the kids are going through. Glad to hear they have uncovered some stars amongst them as well, can’t wait to see the final production.

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