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Anthony Callea: “Bring back Australian Idol”

10 years on, Anthony Callea has had to change with his audience, but is still sentimental for the show that began it all.

2014-09-24_2252It’s ten years since Anthony Callea was runner up on Australian Idol. Famously, he didn’t win the 2004 title, but he arguably secured his career when he sang The Prayer.

A decade later he is still a full-time performer, but he admits to being a little bit nostalgic for the show that launched his career.

“I would love them to bring back Idol in its original format, with Marcia, Mark and Dicko on that panel. There’s just something nostalgic about it that holds a special part in so many peoples’ lives.

“I like hearing them together. Back then we used to have house parties on Sunday nights to watch Idol.”

So did most of the TV audience. 3.35m metro viewers saw Casey Donovan clinch the title at the Opera House.

Callea very nearly didn’t make it into the Idol finals, only saved through a Wild Card lifeline, which he now attributes to not connecting with the audience.

“I was devastated. I worked my arse off and I was thinking ‘Why wasn’t I voted through?’ Then I came back for the Wild Card show but again I wasn’t voted through on the public vote. The judges put me through,” he recalls.

“I think worldwide I was the only act that was never in the bottom 3, so something happened and the audience loved me.”

Since then he has had a career employing pop, music theatre, touring and television. As the music industry has changed, so too has Callea and his audience, including releases as an independent performer.

His latest venture, a concert of George Michael songs, was yet another change of direction.

“In May I pulled my band together and booked out The Palms at Crown in Melbourne,” he says.

“As a 31 year old I grew up with his music and as a male vocalist he is definitely someone who has influenced me over the years.

“I never intended to tour this or record it for a DVD. It was literally a one-night self-indulgent idea, but it sold out 2 months in advance so I thought ‘I’m loving this, let’s see if we can tour it.’ Then the label got on board and said they would like to film it and STUDIO came on board for a special.”

For Callea, the project also involved enormous risk, but he has been rewarded with a national tour.

“I’ve been self-promoting the whole tour. I don’t have a promoter on board. I’ve never been to Perth before and every other time I’ve toured they say ‘It’s too expensive to go to Perth.’ But I thought, ‘I’m calling the shots this time, so I’m doing it.’

“I’m doing it in theatres because it deserves the respect of a beautiful environment.

“It’s a bit scary doing it all yourself. Not only do you have to worry about what you deliver onstage but sitting at your dining table reading Health & Safety reports and Insurance policies, it’s good but full on,” he admits.

“Record companies and Promoters aren’t spending money like they used to or taking risks. So if it’s something you believe in, sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is. Obviously don’t do it stupidly, but I’m pretty realistic at the same time.”

The special filmed for STUDIO includes appearances by former Idol pal Casey Donovan and music director John Foreman, plus partner Tim Campbell. With such a collection of songs, whittling them down to a set list was no easy task.

“I had to cull it down to about 20 songs but when you’re putting a concert together the same concept applies as putting a TV show together: it has to have some light and shade,” Callea says.

“When you’re dealing with hit after hit it’s a tricky thing to pull together. It’s one of the most difficult concerts I’ve had to deliver not only vocally but psychologically as well.

“The reason why I love George Michael is he can go from a beautiful ballad like One More Try or Jesus to a Child then rip it up with a bit of tongue in cheek like Outside or I’m Your Man. Then he can do a jazz standard like Kissing a Fool. He’s an artist who has never pigeon-holed himself.

“These are songs you don’t mess around with.”

Callea is also connected to his fanbase, many of whom have grown into adults and parenthood since his first Idol appearance. He knows the die-hard fans by name.

“There’s a beautiful core who have been there since Day 1 and they started a Forum called Anthony Callea Official Forum. When I left Sony they owned the website and they were going to shut it down. But this website has every single performance, article, anything that has ever been written…. It’s like a vault of everything I have ever done in 10 years,” he explains.

“So I thought ‘There is no way that we are losing this.’ These people have put their heart and soul into this and they keep it updated.

“I own it now but I don’t do anything on it. I said to (the fans) ‘You run it, I’ll just pay for it.’

“They are there front row, every show and I get to know them now. It’s funny, they’re part of the touring family. There’s a girl named Joanne who comes to every show on this tour. There’s Christine who flies across from Brisbane. Lina from Melbourne is flying over to Adelaide and Sydney.

“Some of them have had kids who have grown up and they’re at the shows with their mum.

“But looking out into the audience at those faces I have gotten to know is a beautiful thing. It sounds daggy but when you have people who have stuck by you for 10 years it’s pretty full on.”

Famously coming second, hasn’t turned out so bad in the marathon, rather than the race.

“Without Idol who know what I would be doing, but ten years down the track I get to wake up and still do what I love.”

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Songs of George Michael on Friday 26 September from 8.30pm on STUDIO, and Anthony Callea Presents: Music Legends continues Saturday 27 September from 8.30pm.

19 Responses

  1. Just because a bunch of people aren’t watching American Idol (for the record, I have been and the talent was awesome), doesn’t mean they wouldn’t watch Australian Idol. After all, when Nine played the US Voice it also didn’t rate, and it got shafted to Go. We seem to have a bit of a cultural cringe against imported reality. It’s why the US Bachelor is on Go as well, because it couldn’t get the same audience on a main channel. It’s just not a fair comparison.

    Personally, I find nothing dull about just watching a talented person perform, just a voice and a guitar. It’s horses for courses, and I get that, but Idol was the point of difference where right now there isn’t one.The approach of The Voice and X Factor is essentially the same – one just has spinning chairs.

  2. I loved Anthony Callea on Idol and watched him live in concert in 2005. Shame he disappeared off the face of the earth after 2007 with only one lacklustre EP released since then.

    However Idol is mediocre now compared to XF and Voice. I agree with Mr. J

    ‘TXF was born with the premise of being a bigger & better version of idol, which it pulls off well. Now interest in that is waning people are hardly going to flock back to the smaller & cheaper format. The days of acapella auditions in a hotel conference room with judges from the 70s are gone.’

    Those auditions where it’s just a person singing to a small room with no instruments or audience is dull; people want to see the big ‘Susan Boyle’ moment these days where the audience and judges react strongly. Plus they tried to bring back American Idol and it flopped big time, it was moved to Eleven after the auditions

  3. I hate it when people say “we don’t need Idol back, we’ve got the other shows now” when that’s exactly why we need Idol back.

    Idol did it. They made people. Obviously not everyone which is just how the business works but Idol wasn’t a massive production of a show for the sake of a big show. It gave a damn about the talent and now – Sharon Osbourne said it best – they’re all so contrived.

    No contestant can experience a career like people from Idol have had from X Factor/The Voice because it’s not about what you’re hearing, it’s about what you’re seeing….

  4. Reigan might have lasted longer on X Factor, but that doesn’t mean that she’s doing what she wants to do. She came on the show auditioning with an acoustic guitar, saying she wanted to break out of the image she had with Scarlet Belle. Yet her she is week in week out getting big production numbers.

    I’m having to cast my mind back, but I’m pretty sure her time on Idol came before instruments were allowed too. So it’s a bit hard to compare, isn’t it?

  5. Mr. J: “TXF was born with the premise of being a bigger & better version of idol, which it pulls off well. Now interest in that is waning people are hardly going to flock back to the smaller & cheaper format. The days of acapella auditions in a hotel conference room with judges from the 70s are gone.”

    The X Factor UK has kind of gone full circle and reintroduced the room auditions last year, keeping the Arena auditions as the second round then the Six Chair Challenge replacing Boot Camp.

  6. We don’t need Idol back. We’ve got The X Factor and The Voice. We don’t need a third singing contest in the wheel. Idol has had it time. Time to move on. Stop trying to bring back cancelled reality shows.

  7. I agree on a couple points made by other members on The X Factor, especially that there’s sometimes way too much going on during the performances when the focus should be on the singers. I also hate how the judges over-praise the talent, saying they’re a star or the “best they’ve ever seen”… they’re in a talent competition, and while there is some great talent out there still, let’s see how they fare outside the “X Factor” bubble.

  8. Interesting that Reigan has been brought up as being “pushed into a box” by her X Factor mentor, since she tried her luck on Idol and was voted out early on in the finals. She’s having far more success on X Factor than she ever did on Idol.

  9. I’d also love to see Idol brought back. For me the biggest flaw with both The Voice and The X Factor is the way the judges take on the mentor roles, and thus control the destiny of the artist. It’s fine if the mentor and the artist meet together and really get each other, but all too often we see artists who are pushed into a box that’s very different from who they are (Kat on the Voice, Caitlyn and even Reigan to an extent on X Factor, just in this year alone). Personally I also far prefer Idol’s stripped back performance style. I am so over the big production numbers on the others. Idol was always much more about the artists than what was going on around them.

    if there’s not room on the landscape for them all, easy fix. Can the rest and leave the original and best!

  10. Agree with Anthony – wouldn’t mind seeing Idol return.
    Has always been my favourite format out of all the talent /singing shows.
    Quite happy to see The Voice/X Factor ditched to make room for its return.

  11. They should definitely consider a one off reunion special to satisfy the nostalgia factor. But returning the series would be a huge mistake, nostalgia alone does not make a success with any longevity, look at hey hey and YTT.

    TXF was born with the premise of being a bigger & better version of idol, which it pulls off well. Now interest in that is waning people are hardly going to flock back to the smaller & cheaper format. The days of acapella auditions in a hotel conference room with judges from the 70s are gone.

  12. I’d say Anthony meant to specify that he’s the only runner-up never to have been in the “bottom” 2/3 (whatever they announced on air). Since Kate DeAraugo won in 2005 without ever having been in the Bottom 2 (the only winner in Australian Idol’s 7-year history to achieve this feat), Anthony’s statement can only refer to the runner-up in the Australian series (and this could well be true internationally, but I don’t have the time to research that!).

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