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There’s a podcast about early 2000s ‘Australian Idol’ and I’m obsessed

Words by Isabelle Sacks

“If you’re going to be an entertainer you have to be slightly loony to start with.”

It’s been 13 years since Australian Idol hit our screens, and between Dicko’s lacklustre apology to Paulini last month and the news that Idol is coming back in 2022, it seems like we still can’t get enough of it.

Now a new podcast hosted by former judge Mark Holden is delving into the wildest scandals of the beloved talent contest – from drug-fuelled party tales to death threats and contract dramas.

Hosting alongside him is producer and daughter Katie Holden. The first season of Our Idol Archives will consist of 10 episodes, with each showcasing a different contestant from the show’s seven-season run.

Episodes with Anthony Callea, Axle Whitehead, Natalie Gauci, Tarisai Vushe, Cosima De Vito and Damien Leith are already out, so go binge them now if you’re ready for a full dose of Y2K nostalgia. I spoke to Mark and Katie about putting the podcast together and the wild stories and wacky contestants that have graced the Idol stage over the years.

What inspired you to start the podcast?

Katie: It was kind of a fun thing for me to do with Dad while I was in quarantine in LA. I was feeling a bit homesick, and was listening to a lot of podcasts and thinking, ‘I could do this’. It’s actually a lot harder than I ever thought! I saw a ‘Where are they now?’ about Idol contestants and I thought it could be cool to go deeper on that. There are so many random contestants that we haven’t heard their stories, we have no idea where they’ve been or what they’ve been up to.

I listened to the first few that are out and was totally struck by how crazy some of the behind-the-scenes stories are.

K: There are so many weird stories! You’ve got Anthony Callea talking about a death threat at the Grand Final that Dad didn’t even know about; Axle Whitehead tripping on acid after the infamous ARIAs incident – that was crazy; and with Natalie, all The Voice drama was something we never thought we’d uncover; and Tarisai Vushe, she’s got a crazy story too, being the only African woman that was ever on the show. We asked her about whether she had experienced any sort of racism on the show and she felt that she did and told us all about that…

Mark: Which was so interesting. She’s one that’s kept the music going…

K: Yeah she’s doing musical theatre and she’s a psychologist on the side – a lot of the Idol contestants that are still doing music have a side-hustle because it is really tough to make it.

M: Well especially right now when you can’t perform, it’s crazy.

Some of the contestants are kind of insane though, right?

M: Well if you’re going to be an entertainer you have to be slightly loony to start with.

K: There’s definitely some wacky personalities. Natalie’s story of spirituality was pretty crazy, and Axle just being wasted at every opportunity, including on the way to the audition. He nearly didn’t make it to the Idol audition because he had been drinking all night and his car broke down on the way there. 

You guys have made news with the revelations in this podcast a few times already. I was looking into Natalie Gauci and she’s been promoting QAnon conspiracy theories

M: Oh my god, really?

K: Yeah, same with Axle. I cut out a lot of it, but the last half of the interview was about how he likes Trump, and I cut it because I was like nobody wants to hear this, I don’t want to put this out into the universe, it was just too much. And then Natalie, she lives in Queensland, where they haven’t really had many coronavirus cases, so she’s of the perspective that it doesn’t really exist I suppose.

M: But I was very happy to have Katie be the producer and make all those decisions, and I think she’s made really good decisions about what to cut. It’s nice having the comfort that she’ll cut out my worst moments. 

People still really care about Australian Idol so many years later. What do you think made it so special?

M: I think it was produced incredibly well. I’d experienced television around the world at that point, but the team that put Idol together were just especially good and really at the top of their game. But I think the main thing is that the top producer was a music lover – he loves television too, but really he’s a music fan. That was the heart of it, and I think that showed. It wasn’t just a product.

K: We also were talking with Natalie – her experience was so different on The Voice because it was so overly produced, and it’s way more about the fireworks and splashiness, and Idol had that too but it was completely live-to-air, so I think the unfiltered moments where you either rise to the occasion or you don’t, you don’t see that all the time anymore because everything is highly edited.

What did you think when you heard the announcement that Australian Idol is coming back in 2022?

K: Isn’t that crazy? We launched this podcast and people were asking us if Idol would ever come back – and obviously, Dad was saying, “I’m not doing that again, they’re never going to ask me” – but it was just out of the blue that it happened to be announced when we were starting to release the show, which has been kind of cool. I think everyone is really into the nostalgia right now. I don’t know what Channel Seven is going to do with it but hopefully they have some of the past contestants as judges.

M: I think they’ll use Jess Mauboy, Channel Seven love Jess Mauboy and she’s the logical person really. She’s so fabulous, she’s such a big star – we love Jess.

That moment when Dicko told Paulini to “choose more appropriate clothes or shed some pounds” is still one of the most difficult to watch in Australian TV history. What are your reflections on it all these years later?

M: We wanted to get Paulini on the podcast to talk about it and she had agreed to do it, but unfortunately she had a death in the family and so we couldn’t make it happen this season.

K: Ouch… Yeah, that Paulini moment was pretty brutal. We did talk about that with Tarasai – we were talking about racism on the show and she said that she felt that Dicko was racist and referenced the Paulini moment. 

M: It was pretty bad. I actually went back and had a look at that moment recently. Ultimately it wasn’t about “girls shouldn’t wear those kinds of clothes” in my mind, although it might have been in Dicko’s, what it really was is that we as entertainers need to be more careful with tailoring and paying attention to detail. When you look at the dress, it really didn’t fit very well. So, I think Dicko was right in a way, but in my point of view it wasn’t anything to do with her weight, it was to do with the styling.

I was so surprised by how candid all the contestants were, it definitely felt like a totally unfiltered conversation.

K: Yeah, they really let their guard down. I was surprised too!

M: We just had an adult conversation. They’re all wanting to talk about their experiences because it’s an important part of their life. 

K: I feel like it’s kind of nice for the contestants because for some of them Dad was like a mentor, and since Dad hadn’t spoken to most of them for a while it was just a really fun and genuine catch-up.

M: I’m loving that part of it.

Weekly episodes of ‘Our Idol Archives’ are available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts

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