‘I Needed That As A Kid’: Australian Idol’s Naomi Gipey Opens Up About First Nations Representation On Reality TV

Naomi Gipey was only five years old when she watched Jessica Mauboy audition for Australian Idol back in 2006, but the image of a First Nations woman capturing the nation with her sensational voice has remained in her mind ever since.
Now, more than 15 years later, Gipey is stepping out of her comfort zone, trying out for the reality TV singing contest that's launched the music careers of many recognisable Aussie names.
However, the 22-year-old's pre-filmed audition is unlike what we've seen before. Rather than lining up amongst thousands to file into an audition room, Gipey was surprised with an unexpected visit from judge Meghan Trainor at her home in Alice Springs.
"It was like a zero to 100 moment and like an out-of-body experience," Gipey reveals of meeting the Grammy-winning American singer. "I was very grateful but it was also a lot at once."
Image courtesy of Channel 7
Gipey's highly-publicised audition airs during the show's premiere tonight, and viewers will see the jewellery designer take Trainor to a special outdoor location in the Northern Territory, where she feels "at home" to sing her heart out.
"It's just one of those spots that I go to almost every week, where you can watch the wallabies come down the rocks," she explains, without giving away the location's name, ahead of tonight's reveal.
"When it rains, I go down with my family and we see how much the water has filled up and we call it our little beach... I think you also feel so grounded and connected when you're there."
Connection to land, family and culture is incredibly important to the Yamatji woman. Her interest in music stems from growing up seeing her family gathering around a barbecue and singing. As a child, she was inspired watching Indigenous women like Jessica Mauboy and Casey Donovan singing on Australian Idol and now wants to continue their legacies of female First Nations representation on Aussie TV.
"Growing up as a young Aboriginal girl in remote Australia, First Nations representation was so important, and seeing someone who looks like me on TV was invaluable," she says. "I think it's so important for young Aboriginal kids and the next generation to see that as well."
Image courtesy of Channel 7
Gipey emphasises there's often "negative representation" or stereotyping of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the media. "So, it's really important to have that positive representation," she explains.
"The thought that I could be a role model or that type of representation makes me really emotional because I've realised how much I needed that as a kid."
In recent years, we've seen more First Nations artists singing in traditional language on mainstream TV. Examples include Mitch Tambo singing in Gamilaraay language and Breanna Lee Wilson singing in Wemba Wemba language on Australia's Got Talent.
"Growing up, I never really got to speak in my language. English is my only language," says Gipey, who adds that she has great admiration for some of her favourite artists like Baker Boy and King Stingray, who often sing in traditional language.
"Even if you don't know the meaning, you can tell that there's just so much power underneath the words," she explains, adding that it's also a way to preserve Indigenous languages. "I think it's also something I would absolutely love to do [in the future]."
Gipey is one of the thousands of hopefuls who auditioned for Australian Idol this year, which returns to screens after a 14-year hiatus. The show was recently criticised for a lack of diversity after a panel of four white judges — Kyle Sandilands, Amy Shark, Harry Connick Jr and Meghan Trainor — was revealed. With people like Gipey auditioning, there's hope that the talent lineup will more accurately reflect a diverse Australia in 2023.
Australian Idol 2023 premieres on Monday, January 30 at 7:30pm on Channel 7 and 7plus.
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