Angels Brought Me Here (J Elofssen/J Reid) 2003 – Guy Sebastian
In the 2000’s the talent quest phenomena had been turned on its head, no longer limited to the “New Faces” amateurism of Daryl and Ozzie’s Hey, Hey It’s Saturday, it was now a big budget, slickly produced, heavily promoted prime time network fixture, with a guaranteed audience across a wide-ranging viewer demographic, from tweenies to adults, and every major channel jumped on the talent quest karaoke bandwagon.
Popstars/Idol/X Factor all rolled out to impressive ratings, new singing stars emerged overnight, no longer the sweat, strain, and grind of learning your craft, playing in smoky clubs and bars, or touring one-horse outback towns before achieving major chart success. If you finished in the top three or four places of any of these singing talent quests, you were virtually guaranteed of at least a top ten hit.
You didn’t necessarily need to know how to write a song or even play an instrument, in fact the less you wanted to control the artistic content of the “product” that was released, the more readily you could be absorbed into the songwriting/recording/production/promotion machine that was inexorably grinding away behind all of the wannabe stars that stepped off our TV screens and into the real world.
Professional musicians scorned the instant celebrity enjoyed by the talent show alumni, branded them no-talent one-hit wonders, “Big Brother Karaoke”, while secretly craving their public profile and instant chart success, and feeling vindicated when one by one they faded into obscurity.
Australian Idol debuted in 2003, it was a clone of the original US show devised by Simon Fuller who had managed the Spice Girls before they fired him. Kelly Clarkson was the first US Idol winner in 2002, and despite her legendary disagreements with Arista boss Clive Davis over song and production choices, she went on to enjoy a long and successful career in popular music, few subsequent winners would follow in her footsteps – others like Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Taylor Hicks, Kris Allen, Lee De Wyze and Scotty McCreery would all be relegated to the “Where Are They Now” file.
But back in 2003 the Australian public were prepared to believe that real, enduring talent could be unearthed on the local version of Idol, and like its US counterpart, the first winner would become one of the most successful Australian recording artists of the next decade, his real name was Chicken Theodore Sebastian, but he would soon become better known as Guy.
Sebastian was born to Malaysian/Eurasian parents in Selangor in 1981, and his family emigrated from Malaysia to Australia in 1988, ultimately settling in Adelaide where his father worked as a geologist. Young Guy showed musical aptitude, learning violin, and teaching himself the basics of guitar, drums, and piano, whilst singing in the choir at the family’s Paradise Community Church.
Like the soul and R&B singers of black America, Sebastian honed his tenor voice in the cadences of the gospel harmonies of his church, taking inspiration from such soul luminaries as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway.
When he first appeared on Australian Idol in 2003 he sported an Afro hairstyle and although some of his song choices were dubious, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Climb Every Mountain from the Sound of Music stands out, there was no doubting the impressive virtuoso voice that he possessed and the potential for a great new local R&B/soul talent to emerge.
After defeating Shannon Noll in the final of Idol he had only one week to complete his contractual requirements to produce a debut album in time for Xmas, this would be titled Just As I Am, he actually wrote three of the songs on the album, and one would be a #1 hit, All I Need Is You.
But the debut single, by Swede Jorgen Elofsson, formerly of the Stockholm Hit Factory at Cheiron Studios, and Brit John Reilly, was the power pop ballad Angels Brought Me Here. Eloffsen and Reilly knew how to craft songs for the “money moment” finale of such song contests, after all they had written A Moment Like This for Kelly Clarkson, which she absolutely nailed, to win the final of American Idol.
Both Sebastian and Noll had recorded their own versions of the song before the final to enable a fast release of the record to the pre-Xmas market, although Noll was unconvinced that his voice could accommodate the key changes at the end of the chorus, which were perfect for Sebastian’s tenor voice. The song was recorded at Eargasm Studios (Syd), jointly produced by Bryon Jones (Rockmelons) and Adam Reilly and it went straight to #1, selling 128,679 copies in its first week to set a record which would only be eclipsed by another Idol alumnus Anthony Callea, whose debut single My Prayer soared into the charts in 2004.
Angels Brought Me Here would be the first of six #1 hits for Guy Sebastian in Australia and his debut album also climbed to #1 in December 2003, he owned the charts at the end of the year and his golden run had just begun.
Guy’s career had clearly been kickstarted by his victory in the very first series of Australian Idol, he was a genuine talent, who would enjoy continued success, unfortunately many of those Australian Idol alumni who followed Sebastian as winners of the contest, would not sustain a consistent chart presence, and had to deal with the fluctuating fortunes of pop stardom, these included Casey Donovan, Kate DeAraugo, Natalie Gauci, Wes Carr, and Stan Walker.
The irony of Australian Idol is that more artists who were runners-up in the final of the show have segued to a successful career than the winners, these place getters included such artists as Shannon Noll, Anthony Callea, Rob Mills, Paulini and Ricki-Lee Coulter.