It’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.
lovely little mentions of Jo, Christine and Lina.