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Australian Idol Ep 1 Recap: The Good Singers, The Bad Loser & The Ugly Return Judge

31 January 2023 | 9:49 am | Bryget Chrisfield

Australia Idol 2023’s promo material proudly proclaims: “The only show that makes real stars is back!”

(Source: Supplied)

Following a 14-year hiatus, Channel 7’s reboot of this star-making reality TV series premiered last night with some Australian Idol alumni returning to the fold for continuity. Radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands – who previously sat on the Australian Idol judging panel from 2004 to 2009 – returns this season. As does beloved OG Australian Idol judge Marcia Hines, whose nurturing judging style graced all seven seasons of the show’s initial run. Although she didn’t make an appearance in last night’s episode, Hines was reportedly announced as a ‘special guest’ judge following diversity concerns (which were voiced after 2023’s judging panel was revealed). Also, Ricki-Lee Coulter, who was discovered on Australian Idol in 2004, is on board to co-host Season 8 alongside Scott Tweedie (formerly of The Loop). 

Episode 1 kicked off with a flashback: baby Guy Sebastian auditioning for Australian Idol 20 years ago, before he went on to become the show’s inaugural winner (runner-up Shannon Noll pondering, What About Me?). 

Let the audition round commence! Who will score a Golden Ticket straight into 2023’s Top 50? 

Judging The Judges 

Harry Connick Jr: He’s previously been a mentor on American Idol, and this Grammy and Emmy-winning crooner’s charm is indisputable. 

Kyle Sandilands: As expected, he’s rude AF. And not talented enough himself for his opinion to even matter anyway. Vile Kyle is there for hate-watching, but no further syllables will be wasted on him here. 

Amy Shark: It’s fun to watch her half-up/half-down hairstyle variations, particularly the one that resembles a poop emoji atop her noggin. We really rated her breakout hit single, 2016’s 6x Platinum Adore, BTW.

Meghan Trainor: We enjoyed watching Meghan on the Clash Of The Cover Bands judging panel. She screams/squeals with excitement a lot, which calls to mind legendary So You Think You Can Dance judge Mary Murphy

Travel Porn

As the enormous Australian Idol-branded truck traversed this Great Southern Land in search of shiny future stars, we were wowed by a plethora of stunning natural landscapes on the reg thanks to some spectacular drone footage. 

Singing, Personality, Presence, Heroism & Intelligence

A video package revealed that 26-year-old Perth contestant Sara Houston’s step mum waited at Perth airport’s arrivals yesterday, hoping to run into Ricki-Lee and pass on “what an impact she’d had on Sara”. The story goes that the step mum’s stalker mission was successful and therefore Sara was invited to audition at the 11th hour. 

Check out Sara’s extraordinary full-circle moment/backstory: Sara was diagnosed with “aggressive” bone cancer when she was just eight years old. Around this time, Ricki-Lee was an Australian Idol contestant and paid a visit to Ronald McDonald House in 2005 where Sara was receiving treatment. During tonight’s ep, Sara actually produced a photo of their first meeting to jog Ricki-Lee’s memory, and our eyes began to leak. 

Then Sara entered the audition space in a wheelchair, explaining she had her 32nd surgery yesterday and only found out she was auditioning via a “very manic” phone call from her step mum the night prior. When Sara mentioned she was hoping for some accompaniment, Harry immediately volunteered and headed over to take a seat at the piano. Sara rose to her feet to perform John Mayer’s Waiting On The World To Change from the platform provided, occasionally glancing over her shoulder at Harry. Astonishingly poised and at ease, Sara is a true contender and immediate fave.

Harry, post-performance: “This is what Australian Idol is. We were talking about this earlier: Is it singing? Is it personality? Is it presence? Is it heroism? Is it intelligence? And when I looked at you I started thinking about all the strong, incredible women in my life, I’m like, ‘This is what this show is about.’ And you had all of those qualities, and I had a frickin’ blast playin’ wit [sic] you. And I wanna thank you for that honour.” 

Four yeses from the judges. 

Fun fact: This inspiring Top 50 contestant also reps Australia in wheelchair basketball. 

Delusions Of Grandeur 

Ooft! Why is it so fun watching the trainwrecks!? After butchering Sam Smith’s Lay Me Down and receiving a unanimous no vote from the judges, Imogen Ledell – a 19-year-old law student from Sydney – memorably exited, somewhat disgracefully. While singing a French-language song, she sashayed past the judges in slow-mo, eyeballing them all the while as if to say, ‘Your loss’. Cringe.    

Even Losers Can Be Winners

At the tail end of 26-year-old Adelaide school teacher Jono Webb’s unsuccessful audition, his cheer squad/a cappella group were invited in. And experiencing a ten-strong a cappella group performing Meghan’s chart-topping debut single, All About That Bass (2014), is something we didn't realise we needed in our lives until that precise moment. 

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“Maybe That Could Be Me”

Meghan travelled to Alice Springs solo to surprise a local hopeful – 22-year-old student and jeweller designer Naomi Gipey, who was inspired by Jessica Mauboy’s Australian Idol journey in 2006 – in her hometown. Naomi explained, “Jess Mauboy is my biggest inspiration. Seeing her start on a similar journey and, like, the thought that [choked back tears] maybe that could be me…” She auditioned at one of her favourite places, the staggeringly beautiful Simpsons Gap, and Naomi demonstrated outstanding vocal control and maturity while singing Mercy by Duffy a cappella in the great outdoors. 

Side note: We totally loved that the driver of Meghan’s airport shuttle from Alice Springs was called Bluey! 

Whole Lotta Love For Ben Sheehy 

Cop a look at Ben Sheehy, a pharmacy worker and self-taught singer from Brisbane (who’s 24, but looks 40) knocking Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love outta the park!? 

Harry’s response perfectly summed up Ben’s audition: “You’re a complete enigma to me because, Ben – let’s be honest, man – seriously, you look like you couldn’t care less about being here. Then you started singing… I dig this dude.” That’ll be four yeses, legend! And we can't wait to watch this ultimate chiller’s ‘journey’ with extreme interest and a smile on our dial. 

“Don’t Beg. Be Proud. Accept Things Gracefully”

Elaina O’Connor from WA is definitely One To Watch (although it wasn't her year). She (shakily) auditioned with All By Myself by Celine Dion while still somehow managing to aptly demonstrate her impressive, powerful upper register. A yes from Meghan and Kyle. No from Harry. Then Amy had the deciding vote. Drum roll. No from Amy. “Can I sing for you a different song, please?” Elaina pleaded, with palms locked in prayer position beneath her chin. 

“Don’t beg. Be proud. Accept things gracefully,” Harry interjected (with love). Amy continued: “We have such a responsibility at this desk to make sure people are SO ready, ‘cause I’m telling you now: it’s gnarly out there… I didn’t make it when I was young and I’m so glad I didn’t.” Once Elaina has left the room, Harry concluded, “We just did her the biggest favour of her life. She needs to go to the practice room and she needs to practise.” Agreed. We hope Elaina works extremely hard and continues to follow her dream, ‘cause she definitely has a gift.

Who Else Scored A Golden Ticket?

Amali Dimond – now that’s what we call a future-superstar name! And this 16-year-old’s take on Adele’s cover of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love wasn't too shabby, either. 

Sharin Attamimi – This 24-year-old Perth-based café worker auditioned with a jazzy interpretation of Leave The Door Open by Silk Sonic and has obvious potential.

Joshua Hannan – A uni student from Mount Evelyn who grew up on a rose farm, this 20-year-old nailed his take on Brother. Pretty handsome, as well. Could he be the next Matt Corby? Meghan was enamoured: “I’m your number one fan. We should do a song someday.”

Connor Bulger – This Akubra-wearing lamb marker with an impressive mullet got lucky, we reckon. He performed the Slim Dusty classic, A Pub With No Beer, and could barely hold a tune, but the judges seemed to rate his so-Aussie, salt-of-the-earth persona. 

Tune into ep 2 tonight on Channel 7 at 7.30 pm or catch-up via 7Plus.