Mark Holden has years of experience in Reality TV as a judge on Australian Idol, but it was just 2 performances on Dancing with the Stars in 2014 that may have ended any hope of a return.
Holden’s manic “tribute” to 1960s performer Bobo the Clown drew headlines followed a week later with an erratic performance as Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I thought Dancing with the Stars would put a full stop to my career, but I think it was actually an exclamation mark. No, I don’t think anyone will hire me again, but that’s fine. I’m busy,” he says.
His Bobo performance drew such a social media backlash that he lost his confidence as Putin.
“I already knew that I was gone because I didn’t get my cab charges”
“There was an avalanche of negative social media, which I’d never experienced before. When I was on Idol we didn’t have that,” he recalls.
“I lost my mojo. I wanted to shirtfront Daniel (Macpherson, host) and I asked permission from Channel Seven and they were just hating me. I already knew that I was gone because I didn’t get my cab charges for the next week. And in the TV world when you don’t get your cab charges the next week, you know you’re gone.
“I should have gone harder. I wanted to get a saw and start sawing the judge’s table to annex the eastern part of the judge’s table. I should have smuggled one in.
“If they’d had the security people drag me out of the studio that would have been fantastic.”
Yet he looks back on his Bobo performance with satisfaction.
“Bobo delivered. He had no fear. I was full tilt Bobo but (with) Putin I had my confidence shaken by everything that was happening.”
“I’m a 60 year old man dancing a sexual dance with a 28 year old woman, so I (was) going to make myself as revolting as humanly possible. I went the full Putin.”
Yet Holden enjoyed TV success during his 5 season run judging Australian Idol from 2003 – 2007, where his “Touchdown” catchphrase went into TV mythology. Joined principally by Marcia Hines and Ian “Dicko” Dickson the panel discovered singers such as Guy Sebastian, Shannon Noll, Anthony Callea, Casey Donovan, Jessica Mauboy, Matt Corby, Ricki-Lee Coulter and more.
“They paid me a ridiculous amount of money.”
In his final year he kept a diary which now forms that basis of an autobiography, My Idol Years.
“I didn’t know it was going to be my last year of Idol but I had an instinct it might be,” he reveals.
“When I found out I was fired by Idol in 2008 I took the next year off because it was a giant kick to the guts. They had signed me for multiple years so it knocked me around.
“It was an incredible 5 years and they paid me a ridiculous amount of money. It paid for my house and it was, in every way, a wonderful experience –except for the end.”
“It was a Channel Seven tsunami.”
Holden attributes the show’s downward spiral to the competition -when Channel Seven began screening Kath & Kim in the same timeslot.
“Kath and Kim absolutely obliterated Idol. It was a Channel Seven tsunami.
“We had built it back up to be a major hit again –we were getting 2 millions in 2006- before they added the Regionals.
“When a show like that crashes and burns it has a big effect on a Television station. It was a painful experience, but I was documenting what went on every day.”
Holden’s own pop career in the 1970s included four top 20 singles, there was TV and film acting musicals, followed by music producing & songwriting in the US and several years partnering with David Hasselhoff on his music career.
In recent years he has worked as a Barrister in cases spanning Copyright, Crime, Family Violence, Personal Safety, and for the Children’s Court. But it took him 28 years to get his degree.
“I’m so glad that for 35 years I was an artist.”
“I look back at the 21 year old me who dropped out of law school the first time, who was offered a recording deal with EMI, and I thank him for choosing a life of Art, Singing, Acting, Producing…. Travel the world, write songs…” he reflects.
“As much as a privilege it’s been to be a barrister for the last 8 years I’m so glad that for 35 years I was an artist.
“I just did whatever was there and that’s what Australians do. It gives them experience in a lot of different areas and it makes them strong. I think that’s why we’ve found a lot of Aussies who have made their way to the US and been successful.
“You’ve got to be able to do a bit of everything to have a long career.”
He doesn’t envy those trying to make a start in the music business, and while he prefers to view Drama, there is still respect for current talent shows.
“Whether it’s The X Factor, The Voice, Idol or Showcase in 1974, there are always young people trying to get in.”
Does he have a view on why The Voice is yet to create a household name?
“I don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with Universal, they’re a perfectly good company so I can’t imagine it’s anything to do with that. I just think it’s tougher nowadays. It’s tougher in Australia to have a record career because you’re competing with Sia who works out of New York & LA. It’s a global business now.
“A person who comes off The Voice in 2017 is competing with Ed Sheeran.”
Holden is also still performing on occasions, recently wrapping a show with his brother at the Adelaide Fringe and developing a one-man show, The Greatest Show on Earth, reliving the tales of the Holden Brothers travelling circus, an acrobatic act from the 1980s.
His book also documents family life and a battle with cancer. Over his 40 year career, he has amassed plenty of showbiz memories, now adding ‘author’ to his CV.
Indeed, whether he is employed again in entertainment remains to be seen, but he is relaxed with his current direction and ability to adapt in order to survive.
As his book recalls after being fired from Idol, “I can’t let being kicked off Idol be my last move in life. I need to reinvent myself.”
My Idol Years is published by Transit Lounge, $29.99, rrp.