The Prayer (D Foster/C Bayer Sager/A Testa/T Renis) – Anthony Callea 2004
Anthony Cosmo Callea was born and raised in Melbourne (photographed above with his parents at various ages) and at the age of twenty-one he competed in the 2004 Season 2 of Australian Idol, ultimately losing in the final to Casey Donovan. But like several other runners-up, including Jessica Mauboy and Matt Corby, his chart success and record sales would exceed those of the winner, Casey Donovan, who would score an initial hit single, boosted by her fleeting Idol celebrity, only to quickly drop off the charts and retreat to lesser roles on the fringes of the local music scene.
Callea had been focused on a singing career as a youth and attended the Johnny Young “Young Talent Time” Talent School and entered talent quests as a child, he scored a small part in an episode of the short-lived local series Funky Squad, and made the cut for the final 30 to compete in Australian Idol. Based on viewer votes he didn’t make it through the first round, but returned to the competition courtesy of a Judge’s Choice Wildcard, and ultimately secured a spot in the final 12. He proved to be a popular competitor, his tenor voice was particularly suited to such dramatic ballads as Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon and Garfunkel), I Want to Know What Love Is (Foreigner), Angels (Robbie Williams), Glory of Love (Peter Cetera) and the song that scored him a “Grande Royale Touchdown” from Idol judge Mark Holden, the soaring, operatic The Prayer, a former hit for Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli.
The song had been written in two solo versions for the 1998 animated film Quest For Camelot and recorded separately by Dion in English and Bocelli in Italian, later that year they recorded The Prayer as a duet, and it won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, and was also nominated for Academy Award and Grammy Award honors but was unsuccessful. It was a modest hit on adult contemporary charts, #22 in the US, when first released, and as a classical crossover song it was not a hit on mainstream pop charts, despite the fact that it was hugely popular with choirs and MOR cover artists. Its gorgeous melody and spiritually-inspired lyrics, – “watch us where we go” and “help us to be wise”, underscored a request for universal peace, kindness, and guidance, and the song became popular for memorial services.
Co-composer Carol Bayer Sager (below) has commented on the way in which events in her personal life had inspired the song’s lyrics, following her divorce from Burt Bacharach in 1991, after an unhappy marriage, ended by his infidelity” I think The Prayer embodies everything I looked for my whole life. “Leads us to a place, guides us with your grace, to a place where we’ll be safe.” I didn’t find that safety until my mid-40’s when I met my current-husband Bob Daly.” Musically the song lends itself to full orchestration, strings, flutes, keyboards, percussion, and the angelic cadences of trained voices, it was right in the slot for Callea, and Celine Dion would team up with a Callea sound-a-like in James Groban, when she re-recorded this song in 2008.
After Anthony Callea performed the song on Idol, and finished runner-up to Casey Donovan, he was quickly signed to Sony/BMG Records, and released his recording of The Prayer in December 2004, it would become the fastest -selling hit by a former Idol competitor ever. The Prayer would dominate the local pop charts in a way not replicated by this song anywhere else in the world, it remained at #1 for five consecutive weeks, and after seven weeks it had sold over 280,000 copies. In 2010 ARIA named it the second highest- selling Australian artist song of the decade, right behind another Idol alumnus Guy Sebastian, whose Angels Brought Me Here had sold in excess of 340,000 copies when released in 2003.
Callea’s next single, lifted from his debut self-titled album was the double A-side Rain /Bridge Over Troubled Water, the former was a rather formulaic, anodyne pop song created by Swedish tunesmiths Andreas Romdhane and Josef Larosi with American Savan Kotecha, and the flipside was a famous Simon and Garfunkel ballad which Callea had performed during the Idol elimination rounds. It too charted #1 for two weeks and sold 140,000 copies, the debut album was also a solid #1 hit with 140,000 copies sold, subsequent singles lifted from the album Hurts So Bad (#10), and Per Sempre (For Always #5), a co-write by Callea, continued his solid chart success early in his career. His second studio album A New Chapter climbed to #9 but the next two albums did not resonate with fans.
In November 2014 Anthony Callea would marry his partner, entertainer Tim Campbell, in a ceremony in Auckland (below) and subsequently take two more albums to #1 Backbone (’16), and ARIA No. 1 Hits in Symphony (’17), but neither were big sellers, peaking at less than 10,000 copies, and comprised mainly of Callea’s cover versions of other songs.