Angels Brought Me Here (J Elofssen/J Reid) 2003 and All I Need Is You (G Sebastian/A Reilly/A Firth) and Out with My Baby (G Sebastian/R Thicke/J Gass) 2004 – Guy Sebastian
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, Kris Allen, Lee De Wyze, Candice Glover, Caleb Johnson, Maddie Poppe, Trent Harmon, Nick Fradiani, and Laine Hardy, 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. Below – Guy in the congregation at Paradise 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.
In 2003 when he first appeared on Australian Idol he was chubby and 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 was certainly not a rock, pop, or soul song, his performance of this inspirational ballad was impressive, and there was no doubting the convincing virtuoso voice that he possessed and the potential for a great new local R&B/soul talent to emerge.
The final of the inaugural Australian Idol was however mired in controversy, after weeks of eliminations three contestant remained – Guy Sebastian, Shannon Noll and Perth singer Cosima De Vito, who with several powerhouse performances of big ballads by Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and her soulful interpretation of the Cold Chisel hit from 1982, When The War Is Over, was generally regarded as the favourite. But fate would decree otherwise, and in the penultimate elimination round De Vito succumbed to throat nodes and couldn’t complete her performance of River Deep – Mountain High, which meant that Sebastian and Noll would fight it out for Idol honours the next week. De Vito was not popular with her co-contestants – Sebastian, Noll, Paulini, and Rob Mills – she was criticized for being overly competitive and negative, and even accused of faking her throat condition, but she bowed out of the show gracefully and ultimately took her version of When The War Is Over to #1 the very next year, just beating another Season 1 contestant Paulini’s Angel Eyes to the top spot. Below L-R Shannon Noll, Cosima De Vito, Guy Sebastian, at the moment Cosima announced her withdrawal from the Grand Final.
After Sebastian defeated Shannon Noll in the Idol final 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. Elofssen and Reilly knew how to craft songs for the “money moment” finale of such song contests, after all they had already written A Moment Like This for Kelly Clarkson, which she absolutely nailed, to win the first-ever 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, but with total sales of 360,000, Angels Brought Me Here, would become the biggest debut hit for a former Idol alumnus
The song 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.
In March 2004 the second single lifted off the album, All I Need Is You climbed to #1, and sold 70,000 copies, this was the first Guy Sebastian composition to hit the top of the charts, and was co-composed by two other Australians, guitarist/songwriter Alun Firth and songwriter /producer Adam Reilly who would be responsible for hits by Jessica Mauboy, Paulini and Shannon Noll in the future.
The song had an uplifting, feel-good vibe to it, bouncy electropop which reflected in the promo video shot in a rural setting, people partying and enjoying themselves, it charted well in NZ too, climbing to #5 there.
Sebastian’s second album, Beautiful Life, was released in September 2004, it charted #2 locally, and the first single lifted from it was Out with My Baby, another Guy Sebastian co-composition, this time with US R&B artist Robin Thicke and James Gass who had previously collaborated on hits for Thicke, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson.
The song is unashamedly electropop with a disco dance beat, it celebrated the end of the working week and the opportunity to do some clubbing, it was reminiscent of the Easybeats 1965 classic Friday On Mind, in which similar sentiments were expressed. The promo video captured the energy and fun of a rooftop nightspot, it became Sebastian’s third consecutive #1 and sold 70,000 copies, at this time the girls in the video had more tatts than Guy, who was still a clean skin.
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, would not sustain a consistent chart presence, and had to deal with the fluctuating fortunes of pop stardom, these included Casey Donovan, Kate DeAraugo, and L-R below Stan Walker, Wes Carr, and Natalie Gauci.
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 have, these place getters included such artists as Shannon Noll, Jessica Mauboy, Matt Corby, and Anthony Callea.