In November 2007 Natalie Gauci and Matt Corby faced off in the final of Australian Idol Season 5, Corby was a skateboarding, guitar-playing, metrosexual, seventeen-year-old from Sydney who was the overwhelming favourite to win. Gauci was a 26 -year-old down-to-earth, piano-laying, daughter of Maltese/Italian migrant parents, who worked part-time in her family’s Melbourne restaurant. She dodged elimination several times throughout the competition via judge’s lifelines and wildcards, but few rated her chances against the guitar-slinging Sydneysider, with an army of teens in support. Below – Matt Corby and Nat Gauci on Idol Grand Final night.
Throughout the twelve weeks of the competition Gauci had displayed vocal versatility and a willingness to experiment with songs across different genres and styles- Nina Simone, Gnarls Barkley, Kate Bush, Rihanna, The Divinyls, and in the Grand Final her rendition of Michael Jackson‘s Man In the Mirror, clinched her the title.
In the early years of Australian Idol new singing stars seemed to emerge overnight with chart hits, 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. As Guy Sebastian, Shannon Noll, Anthony Callea, and Casey Donovan (albeit briefly) knew if you finished in the top three or four places of any of these singing talent quests, you were virtually guaranteed of at least one top ten hit. Below – L-R Shannon Noll, Cosima De Vito, Guy Sebastian.
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.
Gauci and Corby were both talented singers and musicians, they had both fought to remove several of the more onerous clauses about creative control from the contract they were required to sign with Sony-BMG, and both had expressed concerns about the song that had been chosen to be the debut release for the eventual winner of Season 5.
Here I Am was written by US tunesmiths Lindy Robbins (above) and Tom Leonard, Robbins had a reputation for crafting glossy, power pop hits crafted for the “money moment” final in Idol contests and she had written hit songs for The Backstreet Boys, Demi Lovato, Jason Derulo, and David Guetta. Robbins was also closely associated with the Idol franchise as well, having written songs for Guy Sebastian, and for such US Idol alumni as Taylor Hicks and Clay Aiken. Gauci expressed reservations about recording Here I Am, “When I heard the demo, I was confused…It had male vocals and it was like “OK’, now what do I do?”. Apparently she had been given the demo of a song written for the Backstreet Boys, which was being recycled for use in Australia, the jazz-trained Gauci had to revamp the song in her own key, and remove the jarring music and lyrics more appropriate for a boyband single. “I kind of made it not different to what I normally sing…Now the song sounds like I wrote it, I feel very proud” she said, not that Robbins or Leonard were prepared to cut her in on any of their songwriting royalties. Below Tom Leonard.
Here I Am would be the first song not to reach #1 when debuted by an Idol winner, it stalled at #2 and sold 35,000 copies, previous Idol winners and runners-up Guy Sebastian (360,000), Shannon Noll (280,000), Anthony Callea (280,000), and Casey Donovan (140,000), had all monstered the charts in the immediate post-Idol euphoria of their respective seasons. But even the Idol brand could not conceal the deficiencies of this song, cheesy balladic pop with a tinkling piano intro and soporific synthy strings, polished air gliding meaninglessly behind Gauci’s autotuned vocals, as she strove to animate the pleadingly predictable lyrics with melismas, and tempo and volume changes “All I ever wanted/Everything I held on to/I lay down at your feet/Cause baby this is me…”. The live version of this song by Gauci on the night of the Grand Final was superior to the actual record, YouTube viewers thought so too, 95,823 vs 1,707, and strangely the record company did not produce a professional music video in support of the song’s launch, the first time an Idol winner had been denied this opportunity.
Natalie’s debut album The Winner’s Journey comprised studio versions of 15 songs she had performed on the show plus Here I Am, this was the first time that an Idol winner had released an album of show-related cover versions so soon after the season finale, and was in response to criticism that Idol winners were sinking into obscurity after one or two singles. The album sold 70,000 copies and charted #11, despite the motley collection of rock ballads and jazz covers at her disposal, there was however considerable praise for Gauci’s ability to use her soft supple tones and keyboard skills to re-invent such songs as Umbrella and Apologise, and impart a polish and finesse that was less obvious during the Idol elimination rounds.
Post-Idol Sony released Gauci from her contract in 2009, she married Hamish Cowan, lead singer with rock band Corazine, after which she formed the electro-pop band Tune In Tokyo and with producer Paul Brandoli released two records, Dreamer (2010) and Ray of Love (2012) but neither charted. Below Natalie and Hamish Cowan.
She released her second album, Ha Ha Ha which was a jazz-inflected collection of songs on the independent Gauch label but it also tanked, by 2011 Natalie had separated from her husband and relocated to London where she worked as a session singer and vocal coach, before returning to Australia several years later, after recovering from a period of substance abuse. Below L-R – Natalie in her Idol heyday, Natalie with baby son Jedidiah, convicted sex offender Sigmund Leon Sokolowski.
In 2020 Natalie revealed that she was launching legal action against her former school music teacher, convicted sex offender Sigmund Leon Sokolowski, for alleged sexual abuse from the age of thirteen, as well as the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne who were responsible for Catholic secondary schools in Melbourne which Gauci attended. Gauci stated that she had suffered eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and depression as a result of the alleged abuse, and as a mother of a two-year-old son Jedidiah, felt that coming forward may help others.
In 2020 Natalie Gauci returned to a reality talent show to try to kickstart her career when she appeared on the The Voice, and proceeded via a blind audition to Episode 12 where she was eliminated. Natalie was highly critical of various aspects of the show including the paltry fee paid to artists like herself, in comparison to the amounts paid to judges, the phony gameshow mentality and manipulation of the contestants, and the absence of real nurturing and coaching by Guy Sebastian during her time on the program. Clearly Natalie Gauci’s time on the Idol/Voice carousel had been less than professionally rewarding, at forty years of age she, along with other talent show alumni like Wes Carr, Stan Walker, Gabrielle Cilmi, Karise Eden, and Kate DeAraugo, may have been older and wiser after their brief flirtation with pop star fame, but their career ambitions had been crushed, and consequently their self-esteem damaged. In 2020 Natalie released her latest single, Pictures of Mars, a soulful piano ballad which was favorably compared to the songs of Alicia Keys and the late Amy Winehouse.