"TURNING 30 was a bit scary, one of those ages where you go 'OK, so I have to act grown-up' but I don't feel that old yet. Then you actually look at yourself in the mirror and you see all the wrinkles so you go 'OK, I'm old [laughs]' and then you start posing for photos very differently. You don't give big cheesy smiles any more, just a grin so it doesn't crinkle your face as much [laughs]."
Anthony Callea, who’s now very old, at 31, was reminiscing on the theme of numbers, specifically 30, because another tri-decade is figuring in his life — it’s 30 years since George Michael’s first solo single, Careless Whisper.
"That means his music has been a part of my whole entire life! There's not a better artist to be inspired by than George Michael because vocally he is phenomenal. Initially my show was just a one-off in Melbourne because I wanted to do it for myself. It was actually quite self-indulgent because I just love his music.
"But then it sold out and I thought 'OK, it's sold out two months before I've even actually put it together so I was freaking out. 'OK. Great. OK [laughs].'
It must take a lot of courage to say "I’m gonna sing George Michael's catalogue".
"You think? Yeah! It was extremely daunting initially and I’m not gonna lie it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to pull together. You have to treat his music with respect and, you know, they're not your typical pop songs. When you actually sit down and dissect them you realise they do, a lot of them, do come from a really deep place, you know.
"Like Jesus to a Child, One More Try, they're very intense lyrics. It's funny, you know, you've heard these your whole life, I have anyway, but sometimes you don't exactly know what they mean and you sit down and go through them and find yourself wondering what is Jesus to a Child all about?
Watch Anthony perform George Michael's hit Freedom (01.45):
"Actually, after his lover died he couldn' write for ages and this was the first song he'd written in about 18 months and he wrote it in an hour. And when you’re actually delivering a song like that, as tragic as that scenario was, it's a beautiful thing to have at the back of your mind because you're essentially telling his story through his words.
"It was fascinating to look into his music in a bit of depth. It's scary because I try to put myself in an audience's shoes as if I’m rocking up to a concert by Anthony Callea doing George Michael music. In my head I'm saying 'Do not eff this up, Anthony! Don't ruin it for me!' [laughs].
"There's that added extra pressure because everyone loves the music, it's so iconic. Everyone knows you don't want to play around with it too much. But at the same time I never went in there intending to try to replicate his sound or his delivery or anything like that, it was basically I want to celebrate his music and just put the Callea stamp on it but pay respect to these amazing songs and this great artist.
Have you seen George Michael perform?
"Yeah, I couldn't see his Melbourne show when he was here the last time because I was gigging the same night so I flew to Sydney to watch it there. I love him."
What impressed you about his live performance?
"His vocals! I'm a big fan of someone who just sings. I love a good singer and it's rare to come across singers in this day and age who are like him. Whitney Houston was, Celine Dion, iconic voices who have made a musical mark around the world and their music will live on for generations to come. Amazing songs with amazing vocal delivery.
"I can't think of anyone from my point of view who's a better male vocalist than George Michael. Growing up as a kid all my musical tastes used to lean towards songs that came from real singers. I used to love listening to John Farnham, Rick Price, Jack Jones, Tina Arena. All real singers, no bells and whistles, they hold their own out there on stage vocally and that's what I love in a performer."
Talking of bells and whistles, you've laid it on the line for The Voice. It's unfair to put young singers on The Voice and promise them a career if they win.
"Look, I launched my career on a similar show and it may seem like I'm having a go at these shows. I'm not. All I'm saying is these shows have changed. It's about TV. At the end of the day TV wants it to be entertaining. So many people promise you things, every day, not just in the music industry but in all walks of life, you know, people make promises to you. It doesn't mean they're gonna come true.
"Look, I launched my career on a similar show to The Voice and it may seem like I'm having a go at these shows. I'm not. All I'm saying is these shows have changed. It's about TV."
''It's the same thing with these sorts of shows. Essentially, you have to work your arse off, and you know, for the last 10 years, as much as I love what I do, I don't sit back and let it come to me and wait for it. You have to work hard otherwise opportunities will fall through. I wanna give it my best shot and wanna be doing this for a very long time and to do that you do actually have to work hard and understand how the industry works.
"Having said that, when you're on a show such as The Voice — I can't speak from their point of view because I don't know what it's like to be on a show like The Voice; I did Idol and it was very different — however, I'm sure the excitement and the adrenalin rush are exactly the same. So enjoy that, embrace that, go along with the ride.
"Those three months I spent on that TV show, my God, yes, it was a total whirlwind of emotions, good and bad at the same time, it was exciting and it was an experience I will never ever have again in my entire life.
"it's just, look, I'm the first one to admit I was 21 and there was a point that all of a sudden I was going from gigging in bars and corporates and weddings, and teaching — I had 30 private students — and all of a sudden it went, you know, to the total next level very quickly
"Of course it was exciting and I was basically a kid and I did get swept away with it and it went to my head and I fell into the trap of thinking 'Oh my God, this is going to last forever!' It was amazing, I was flying business class everywhere and getting limo transfers and being upgraded to suites and blah blah blah . . .
"I was 21 and suddenly I was flying business, getting limos, being upgraded to suites and I was basically a kid and I did get swept away with it and it went to my head and I fell into the trap of thinking 'This is going to last forever!' "
"But I have amazing parents that I get on with like a house on fire and as much as we get on and so forth my Dad, in particular, will always pull me in line and actually give me a word if I need a word, like he would give my brother and my sister. It's important. You don't need a lot of friends but you need good friends who''ll always be there for you in those scenarios.
"And you have to be thick-skinned. So many things are gonna get thrown at you. I call myself Teflon now. Throw whatever you like at me, nothing will stick [laughs]."
You're gonna be singing The Prayer for the rest of your life . . .
"And that's not a bad thing. I actually love that. It's a beautiful thing when I get booked for a gig and that's the first question: 'Can you make sure you sing The Prayer?' It always comes through: 'Can you make sure The Prayer is in your set list?' Like yeah, it's all good.
"However, doing the George Michael show, there is no Prayer [laughs]!"
When you do The Prayer is there a particular prayer you're aware of?
"What do you mean?"
Is the song your personal prayer for anything in particular?
"Nnnnnooooo. I wouldn't say I pray much, as such. I think the sentiment of the song is, you know, yes, it's called The Prayer, but I don't think it comes down to religion. Obviously there's something religious about the song but you don't have to be religious to get something out of it. It's just a beautifully written song with beautiful lyrics that sums up life."
How do you and your partner [actor and singer] Tim Campbell avoid being the poster boys for the gay community?
Maybe you don't!
"You know what? I can only speak for myself, and to a certain degree for Tim, but at the end of the day we're entertainers and this is our job and I understand for some reason when you're gay sexuality comes into play as a bit of a topic for discussion. However, we don't you know, I don't let my sexuality, nor does Tim, dictate the way we conduct ourselves, the way we act or what we say. It's just part of who we are. We don't hide it obviously, we're together, and we're open about that.
Love the podcast you guys have done. You're overdue for the next ep!
"[Laughs] When we're actually together we'll get another one done! Even my Mum goes 'When's the next podcast?' And I go 'When have you seen me lately?' And she goes 'My God, you've been busy!' And I go 'Exactly!' Hopefully, we'll get another one done soon."
What comes across on the podcast is that you and Tim are just a normal couple. How do you protect that?
"How do we protect that. Mmm. I suppose we have the same outlook on life. Our job is our job and when we come home . . . yes, we work in the same industry which can sometimes not work for a lot of couples but for some reason it works for us.
"We bounce ideas off each other, we do our thing and we do it separately but at the same time support and respect each other but we do make a conscious effort to clock off and we don't let what we do for a job, which is essentially what it is, dictate our life and we can say 'Hey, let's go out for dinner' and we clock off. We don't talk about work, we don't talk about that person who's doing our head in today, we go open a bottle of wine and bitch about The Real Housewives of Melbourne [on Foxtel] [laughs]. ❏
This story updated with concert details
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