TV & Film

Australian Idol’s most memorable (and a few unhinged) moments

From Shannon Noll's shock loss in season one, to Dicko fat shaming Paulini Curuenavuli...

It’s the show that took everyday Aussies and started them on a trajectory of fame – a fame rarely replicated in shows trying the same formula today. 

When it debuted on Network Ten, Australian Idol took everything we loved about the reality drama of shows like Big Brother, and talent shows like Young Talent Time, and gave us the perfect balance in a show the whole family could enjoy.

Fans attend the finale of the 2005 Australian Idol at the Sydney Opera House Sydney, Australia.
Fans attend the finale of the 2005 Australian Idol at the Sydney Opera House Sydney, Australia.

From 2003 to 2009, Australian Idol uncovered the likes of Guy Sebastian, Jessica Mauboy, Shannon Noll, Em Rusciano, and so many more. Over the years, we saw the rise and fall of celebrity judges who, although they sat through hours and hours of excruciating auditions, were ultimately never the deciding factor of success.

The fandom that was created around the contestants was one of frenzied support, a type of fanfare that today’s reality personalities only come close to through social media. Between the sold-out live shows and the hard-earned 55c per text to ensure each vote counted – Australian Idol was a cultural beast.

Ultimately, as the show gained popularity, other networks tried their luck at replicating what Idol had done. The competition became less exclusive, the pool of competitors dwindled and shiny new formats won over the television public. Eventually, Ten chose not to have the show return in 2010.

But one network’s loss is another one’s gain. As Australian Idol 2024 hits screens, we look back on some of the best unforgettable moments from the hit 2000s series.

Will Australian Idol return in 2024?

After years of lying dormant, Australian Idol made its television resurgence on Channel Seven in 2023. Come January 29, 2024 it will be back on our screens for another season of tone-deaf auditions, harsh critiques, talented newcomers and incredible guest performances!

Who are the judges of Australian Idol 2024?

The Australian Idol 2024 judges are confirmed as Marcia Hines, Kyle Sandilands, and singer Amy Shark. Kyle and Amy were judges on the series reboot in 2023 (along with Meghan Trainor and Harry Connick Jr). Marcia, meanwhile, was an original judge when the series debuted in 2003.

Instagram: @themarciahines

01

Jessica Mauboy auditioned in Alice Springs

At only 16 years old, Jessica Mauboy nervously auditioned for the 2006 season of Australian Idol. She sang Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing, and smashed it out of the park. The fan favourite made it to the final two and lost out to Irish-Australian singer, Damien Leith.

02

Kyle Sandilands was once fired as a judge

Shock jock Kyle Sandilands joined the judging panel in 2005, replacing original judge Ian “Dicko” Dickson who took a two year hiatus. But the controversy Kyle brought on and off the screen in his radio gig would ultimately lead to his dismissal from the show in 2009.

When a lie detector stunt live on air saw a young girl admit she had been raped; Kyle’s glib reaction was quickly condemned. Then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd summed up public sentiment at the time, saying “This is really off. It’s wrong, [it] shouldn’t be done. This is a young girl and I am, as I think most Australians are, really distressed at the way in which the young person has been treated in this way.”

2Day FM put the radio show on hiatus and Network Ten issued a statement saying it was letting Kyle go as it was, “increasingly clear that as [Australian] Idol has remained a family-focused show, his radio has taken on a more controversial position over this period which is not in the interest of the show”.

Despite this controversy, in 2023 Kyle returned to Seven’s revival of the show and is confirmed as a judge in 2024.

Australian Idol Judges Kyle Sandiland, Marcia Hines and Dicko arrive for the 2008 Top 12 finalist announcement for Australian Idol.
Australian Idol Judges Kyle Sandilands, Marcia Hines and Dicko arrive for the 2008 Top 12 finalist announcement for Australian Idol.

03

Guy Sebastian and his huge hair

Is there anything more iconic than Guy Sebastian walking into the Australian Idol audition room with his signature “Fro”?

He was the epitome of pure talent. Although the singer received immense criticism from Ian Dickson for his dishevelled looks, Marcia Hines thanked the shy 21-year-old, “What a beautiful gift you have… thank you.”

Guy – and his signature hairstyle – made it through every round and he was eventually crowned the winner of Australian Idol 2003. Go the Fro!

Guy Sebastian performs at his last public appearance before the final of 'Australian Idol in Sydney, Australia.
Guy Sebastian performs at his last public appearance before the final of ‘Australian Idol in Sydney, Australia.

04

Marcia Hines standing up for Paulini and her gold dress

In the early days of reality TV there would often be moments that collectively took our breath away – and not in a good way.

Paulini Curuenavuli had just powered through a rendition of I’m a Survivor by Destiny’s Child when Dicko decided to put her survival skills to the test declaring in front of the whole of Australia, “It’s the real world, you should choose more appropriate clothes or shed some pounds.”

Luckily, in a pure act of women supporting women, Marcia Hines redirected the conversation, “Let’s get back to the matter at hand, you’re slammin’! You sang the song.”

Marcia Hines defends Paulini Curuenavuli after Dicko makes harsh comments about her weight.
Marcia Hines defends Paulini Curuenavuli after Dicko makes harsh comments about her weight.

05

Shane Gilberto Jenek auditions again only days after being rejected

In the loophole of the century, Shane Gilberto Jenek auditioned for Australian Idol and didn’t make the cut. Days later, Shane returned in drag. Auditioning as Courtney Act, the performer blew the judges away. Call it fate, call it determination, but we’re just glad we still have Courtney Act on our screens!

Taking to Instagram for the 20th anniversary of their audition, Courtney shared, “Auditioning as Shane and being sent home could have been the end, but it was just the beginning. I bent the rules and my gender and returned the next day in drag and made it through.”

Courtney Act during "Australian Idol" Grand Finale - Red Carpet at Sydney Opera House in Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Courtney Act during “Australian Idol” Grand Finale – Red Carpet at Sydney Opera House in Sydney, NSW, Australia.

06

Shannon Noll becomes a fan favourite, then comes runner-up

Shannon Noll walked into the audition room and instantly won over the viewers. His chosen song, Hold Me In Your Arms, by Southern Sons, had judge Mark Holden, commenting “I think Australia will love you, I really do.” and boy did we!

A typical Aussie bloke, Shannon was a farmer, with a fiance and two kids, he was trying to give singing a crack.

Many Australian hearts broke when Shannon lost to 2003 winner Guy Sebastian. However, both have gone on to have incredibly successful careers in the music industry.

Australian Idol contestant Shannon Noll performing.
Australian Idol contestant Shannon Noll performing.

07

The hosting duo that was Andrew G and James Mathison

When you think of Australian Idol, the faces that come to mind should be the hosts Osher Günsberg (formerly known as Andrew G) and James Mathison. These two had a dynamic that co-hosts will continue to dream about recreating.

Osher of course has gone on to be one of the most successful faces on Australian TV today, while James decided to step away from the media. The pair continue to be great friends, even co-hosting a podcast called Idle Australians briefly in 2021.

TV personalities James Mathison and Andrew G attend the third ASTRA Awards 2005 in Sydney, Australia.
TV personalities James Mathison and Andrew G attend the third ASTRA Awards 2005 in Sydney, Australia.

08

Ricki-Lee is eliminated early

In possibly one of the only obvious downfalls of the text in voting system, Ricki-Lee Coulter was eliminated criminally early in season two after being a front-runner since her audition. Even the judges presented as visibly shocked when the star was prematurely sent home.

The public axing, thankfully, wasn’t the end of Ricki-Lee’s career. The singer went on to perform in the girl group, The Young Divas, alongside Australian Idol alumni Jessica Mauboy, Kate DeAraugo, Emily Williams, and Paulini Curuenavuli.

Singer Ricki-Lee Coulter attends the finale of the second Australian Idol at the Opera House 2004 in Sydney.
Singer Ricki-Lee Coulter attends the finale of the second Australian Idol at the Opera House 2004 in Sydney.

09

Stan Walker shows us what a great audition looks like

It wasn’t often that the awkwardly silent auditions were accompanied by a musical instrument, but when they were, they mostly turned out like Vinh Bui’s interesting rendition of Imagine by John Lennon.

But when Stan Walker walked in with his Kiwi accent, and indie Y2K scarf and played Ordinary People by John Legend and stole our hearts.

Stan Walker, one of the final 10 Australian Idol 2009 contestants, performs on stage.
Stan Walker, one of the final 10 Australian Idol 2009 contestants, performs on stage.

10

Cosima’s shock exit

Could Cosima De Vito have been our first Australian Idol? Unfortunately, we will never know.

The first season was coming to an end, and we had our top three ready to fight it out in the semi-finals, Shannon Noll, Guy Sebastian, and Cosima De Vito.

Australia was devastated when Cosima announced her shock exit due to inflamed throat nodules. In a very tense statement, she read, “Unfortunately, I have a temporary condition that’s affecting my voice and it’s forced me to make the decision to leave the competition.”

We’re still a mixture of devastated and curious to this day.

Cosima De Vito performs November 13, 2004 in Melbourne, Australia
Cosima De Vito performs November 13, 2004 in Melbourne, Australia.

11

The underdogs who should have placed

These are the faces of some of the best and most loved talent to come out of the show. What’s the one thing they all have in common? Heartbreaking early elimination turned into a cultural success!

Rob Mills came fifth in the first season of Australian Idol. Since then he’s pivoted into acting along with singing, forging a hugely successful career.

The second season gave us Em Rusciano. A young mum who had never really sung before – yet she made it to the top 12, placing ninth.

In a devastating exit, Dicko made a dreadful remark about Em looking like Pauline Hanson “having a night at the bingo” during her performance. To that, we say – Dicko who? Em has gone on to have a fruitful career in media, as a much-loved radio host, comedian and TV personality.

But who could forget about Dean Geyer; one of Idol’s best exports? He placed third in the fourth season of the show and quickly got a spot on Neighbours. This then led to US success including a recurring role in the US show Glee.

Rob Mills, Em Rusciano, and Dean Geyer.

12

Mark Holden’s infamous “Touchdown!”

It wouldn’t be Australian Idol without the iconic “Touchdown!” invented and acted out by Mark Holden.

The judge first pulled out the move after Cosima’s performance of When The War Is Over by Cold Chisel. The audience loved it, and at the time so did we! It was a move not seen anywhere else in the world, and truly was a sign that whoever had the stage, just delivered the performance of a lifetime.

However, since the revival of the show, Mark has spoken out about how “hurtful” it is to see the new judges using his old catchphrase.

Mark Holden attends the 2007 Australian Idol grand final at the Sydney Opera House.
Mark Holden attends the 2007 Australian Idol grand final at the Sydney Opera House.

13

Controversial Winners

If you watched the Australian Idol season six finale, you’ll understand the confusion (and possible anger) felt when Damien Leith took home first place, leaving fan favourite Jessica Mauboy in second.

Looking back, maybe the best thing to happen to Jess was that loss. The Aussie treasure went on to perform in the majorly successful girl group, The Young Divas. Then she topped the charts with her solo single Burn.

To this day, she continues to shine in the music industry. She also moved her career into other avenues. She has performed in movies such as The Sapphires, and in a full circle moment, became a judge on the reality music show, The Voice.

Sorry Damien, while we loved Got My Mind Set On You, we call for a do-over.

Jessica Mauboy and Damien Leith during Australian Idol Grand Final in 2006.
Jessica Mauboy and Damien Leith during Australian Idol Grand Final in 2006.

While we’re on the topic of controversial placing in a season finale, let’s take a look at Anthony Callea and Matt Corby.

The second highest-streamed contestant in Australia on Spotify, Matt Corby is another second-place success story. The teenage heartthrob lost to Natalie Gauci, and while she shone, there was always a clear favourite.

Matt’s music has topped charts globally, with many of his songs also placing in Triple Js Hottest 100, locally.

Casey Donovan has continued to evolve her career. But from the moment that Anthony Callea sang The Prayer in 2004, in the publics’ mind he was the clear winner.

In what was seen as a shock of mammoth proportions, however, the 22-year-old with the outstanding pipes placed second. However, to this day he is still releasing music, has won a multitude of awards, and has appeared on reality TV shows such as I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here, and Celebrity Apprentice.

Maybe coming second isn’t such a bad thing in the long run?

15

Michael Bublé performing at the 2009 Final

When was the last time a finale of a reality TV show looked like New Year’s Eve on Sydney Harbour? In the final season of its original run, Australian Idol gave viewers one of the biggest season finales and live performances they would ever see.

As fireworks filled the sky and the one and only Michael Bublé performed his song Feeling Good with finalists, Stan Walker and Hayley Walker. What a budget!

Michael Buble performs as fireworks illuminate the Sydney Opera House during the 2009 Australian Idol Final at the Sydney Opera House on November 22, 2009 in Sydney.
Michael Buble performs as fireworks illuminate the Sydney Opera House during the 2009 Australian Idol Final at the Sydney Opera House on November 22, 2009 in Sydney.

You can watch the new season of Australian Idol 2024, on January 29 on Channel 7 or 7Plus

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