I Desperately Want Australian Idol’s Comeback To Be A Success — But There’s 1 Major Issue

When it first aired 19 years ago, Australian Idol marked the birth of a new era of talent shows on Australian reality TV. While Young Talent Time had been a favourite of my parents' generation in the 1970s and 80s, Australian Idol was a fresh Aussie adaptation of the international Idol series, giving Aussie youth — including my 11-year-old self at the time — a reason to engage with and celebrate local music on TV beyond Saturday morning's Video Hits and Rage marathons. A bright-eyed Guy Sebastian, a 16-year-old Casey Donovan and an ambitious Stan Walker were just a few of the new faces that won our hearts at the Sydney Opera House grand finals and helped us celebrate a diverse Australian music industry.
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After seven years on Channel 10, the show came to an end in 2009. By this time, the talent show genre had become a crowded space with The X Factor and Australia's Got Talent (AGT) also on air.
But now Australian Idol is returning to screens in 2023 after 14 years. While a sense of nostalgia comes over me at hearing about the show's return, the choice of famous faces on the judging panel is less heartwarming. The new judges on the Channel 7 version include ARIA Award winner Amy Shark, American singers Meghan Trainor and Harry Connick Jr., and Aussie radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands, who was previously a judge on the show from 2005 to 2008.
Image courtesy of Channel 7
Each of these celebrities has made an impact on the music industry in their own right, but the combination of them on the Australian Idol panel in 2023 represents a step backward, rather than a reinvigoration, of the TV show. While Marcia Hines, a Black woman, was a judge throughout all seven seasons in the past, this new panel is all white and only half are actually Aussie.
I struggle to see how a national treasure like Australian Idol can successfully reinvent itself, be relevant in the current TV landscape and frankly, be enjoyable to watch, when its old-time viewers (like me) and a new generation of Aussies have grown to realise we deserve (and have always deserved) to see an Australia that looks and feels like us on screen.
In the time Australian Idol has been absent from TV, other talent shows have tried to be more culturally diverse in terms of judges. Nigerian-born Australian singer and dancer Timomatic judged AGT in 2013 — but that was 10 years ago! Since then, the only person of colour on the judging panel has been an international celebrity, Nicole Scherzinger, and now British singer Alesha Dixon in the upcoming 2022 season.
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The X Factor featured Kate Ceberano (whose father is of Filipino descent) as a judge during the first three seasons, Guy Sebastian across five seasons, Spice Girls star Mel B on three seasons and LMFAO's Redfoo on two seasons.
The Voice has featured British singer Seal for three seasons, The Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am in 2014, Kelly Rowland from 2017 to 2020, and British hitmaker Rita Ora last season and this year. Ex-Australian Idol star Jessica Mauboy became the first Indigenous woman to become a coach/judge on the show in 2021, and returned to the show this year.
The pattern is undeniable — people of colour are rarely featured on the judging panels, and when they are, they're more often than not celebrities from overseas. This is despite our music industry and talent shows having produced some of the most successful talent from various cultures and backgrounds. Guy Sebastian, Jessica Mauboy, Paulini Curuenavuli, Amali Ward, Emily Williams and Stan Walker are examples from Australian Idol alone, while L Fresh The Lion, Jaguar Jonze, Dami Im and First Nations singers Barkaa, Thelma Plum and Baker Boy are just a few of the long list of diverse musicians in the Aussie biz.
A show like Australian Idol will no doubt continue to select people of colour as contestants to showcase their talents on stage in the name of ratings and entertainment. But as I tune in to the upcoming season, I know it's going to be hard as an audience member to feel entertained when I know these contestants' worthiness will be judged by a row of white people.
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Refinery29 Australia has contacted Channel 7 for comment.
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