If anyone knows about rejection it’s Anthony Callea.
He lost Australian Idol to Casey Donovan in front of more than 4 million people (including regional viewers). In fact he very nearly didn’t even make the 2004 Top 12 finalists. After lucking out in his Semi Final he got a lifeline in the show’s Wildcard episode. Yet, after daring to sing The Prayer, he would eventually eke out a career with the fastest selling Australian single of all time.
Now on the other side of the audition panel for FOX8’s reality series Ultimate School Musical: Fame, he knows what it’s like having to let people down gently.
“It was a bit weird,” he tells TV Tonight. “I sat on panel and auditioned about 160 kids. So for me that was a first and I actually felt a little bit sorry for them. Obviously I know what it’s like to stand on that side of the desk. I’m usually on the other side, not sitting there judging.”
Callea serves as Vocal Coach on the series which leads a group of high school students through an intensive series of singing, dancing and acting classes, culminating in a public performance of the musical Fame.
“With the first few kids that came to the audition I actually said to myself, ‘How on earth am I going to get through this?’
“It killed me, it totally killed me because I had to say ‘No’ to most of them, and I don’t like getting a ‘No’ myself when I go to an audition,” he says.
“But at the end of the day we did have to remember they are kids. They are 12 to 18 year olds who never actually went to school and said ‘I wanna be on stage at the Regent Theatre.’ We actually invaded their school and said ‘You’re the school that we’ve chosen to put on a musical, so now come to us and audition for us and we’ll tell you if you are good enough.'”
The students in the series come from Essendon-Keilor College in northern Melbourne. Most of the students come from working class and multicultural families.
“It was a lot harder than what I expected it to be. It was great working with the kids but this is not a performing arts school. This is just an everyday school in Essendon and we’re working with kids who had never walked on a stage before,” says Callea.
“They’d never sung before, had never acted before, had never danced before. So they were totally raw and within a few weeks we needed to put on a full blown stage musical at the Regent Theatre. So how were we going to do this?”
Joining him for the task were performer-writer Eddie Perfect (Shane Warne: The Musical, Keating: The Musical) as Director, choregrapher Kelly Aykers (So You Think You Can Dance Australia) and host Ruby Rose (MTV, The 7PM Project).
The stage musical Fame, currently playing in Melbourne, is based on the 1980 movie which in turn inspired the hit television series of the same name. It features former Dance contestants Talia Fowler, ‘Timomatic’, Marko Panzic, and BJ Rork, plus actors Andrew McFarlane and Brian Wenzel. Creatives from the production, including director Kelley Abbey and producer John Frost will appear across the FOX8 series.
Callea wouldn’t be drawn on what cross-promo deals, if any, were at play between Foxtel and the Melbourne musical, but admits he didn’t have much say in the choice of material.
“We didn’t have any say in the show that we were doing. It worked obviously because John Frost is doing it, they teamed it in with a musical which is currently going to happen. So it makes sense because it actually had some relevance to why the kids were doing it. But we didn’t really have any say in what musical we were doing,” he says.
Having already watched the UK version of the show, Callea says he walked into this production with a fresh approach. Amongst the group that was selected to comprise the Fame company, the former singing teacher says they uncovered some budding talent.
“We did find a couple of singers in there. So it did make my job a little easier when it came to some of the leads. Still, it was a bit of task for me and something that I haven’t really done before.
“At the end of it all they really appreciated us going to their school and spending time with them and giving them this opportunity. You could tell they appreciated it. They were really good kids, all of them. To have a group of 20 something kids to work with, and all of them be appreciative, it was great,” he says.
“It never really felt like a chore.”
Ultimate School Musical: Fame airs 7:30pm tonight on FOX8.