It started in the UK as Pop Idol in 2001 and has become an international success over the past eight years. The Idol "franchise" now covers more than 35 countries, including Armenia, Estonia and, of course, North America and Australia.
While each country brings its own local fl avour to the format, it's a competition that promises the same thing to the thousands of mainly young people who audition-a chance of fame, success and the opportunity of a dream come true.
In 2009 it was Stan Walker who stole the hearts of millions of Australians and New Zealanders of redemption and stunned and judges with the depth of his talent and mature, soulful voice.
"It's really awesome," says 19-yearold Walker of his Australian Idol win last year. "It's been my dream since I was a little kid, to be a singer, to do what I love doing, get paid doing it and impact other people while doing it."
With his win, Walker also became the fi rst person of New Zealand descent to achieve the title in Australia.
Barely six months after kick-starting his dreams of becoming a recording Winning Australian Idol 2009 may have changed the externals of his life, but inside it's already been transformed. Melody Tan chats to Stan Walker. nders with his story tunned audiences artist and signing with Sony Music, Walker is already seeing the impact he has on the Australian market.
"Black Box," his debut single sold more than 15,000 copies in the fi rst week, almost double the number previous Idol winner Wes Carr had over the same period. It has since reached platinum status (over 70,000 copies sold) in the ARIA charts, Australia's offi cial music chart.
His debut album, Introducing... Stan Walker, released less than a month after winning Australian Idol, has also received platinum status in Australia and (with over 30,000 copies sold) in New Zealand, and ranked third in the ARIA charts for three weeks.
And among his ever growing touring itinerary, Walker will perform this month at Easterfest, a three-day Christian music festival held in Toowoomba, Queensland. His appearance will mark the first Australian Idol winner to perform at the festival since Guy Sebastian in 2004. Walker collaborated with Sebastian on a new song called "Think Of Me" in his debut album.
"Stan is easily the best talent to come from Idol since Guy Sebastian," says Easterfest CEO Isaac Moody, who believes Walker's appearance will help "fi ll every square inch" of the venue's expanded area.
It's an unbelievable triumph and acknowledgement to a young man who before Idol, worked in retail in a menswear shop.
"We never had any kind of industry connections previously," Walker admits. "There were some managers who were interested in me earlier on, but my mum felt I was too young at the time. None of us knew anything about how the music industry really worked-it was a mystery to us. Then Idol came along and everything changed."
Walker's burgeoning music career is especially poignant because it's not simply about passion, interest or a means to fame and fortune.
"I had a really rugged upbringing, and came from a broken home. Music was a refuge for me. It was something I could run to that nobody could take away from me or destroy. I loved just sitting in my room, playing the guitar and singing by myself."
Born in Melbourne, Walker and his family moved back and forth between Australia and New Zealand before settling in Coolangatta, Queensland, prior to his Australian Idol win.
Walker likened his life to that portrayed in 1994 New Zealand film Once Were Warriors, which tells the story of an urban Maori family and their problems with poverty, alcoholism and domestic violence, and mostly brought on by the family patriarch.
"I was brought up around a lot of drugs and alcohol. My dad was a very violent and angry man. He used to beat my mother. Home was not very secure at all. Mum did the best she could, but it was not very good. A lot of stuff was happening.
"I was a broken, obscure young fella who tried everything trying to escape from life. My view on life was to try to have fun as much as I could."
Speaking to Walker now, one gets the impression that although his childhood is not something he would necessarily want, it's something he holds no bitterness against.
It is diffi cult not to see that Walker is still intent on having fun now, but gone are the days of recklessness and despair. From his fi rst introduction to the nation as an Australian Idol hopeful to his present celebrity status, Walker is deeply passionate and highly vocal about the God who transformed his life some four years ago.
"My parents started going to church when I was seven, but it wasn't until I was about 15 that I had an encounter for myself. I'd been through a lot because of Mum and Dad, and stuff at home just got to me. I heard a testimony of a girl that had [a family background] similar to mine, and I couldn't understand how she could be so happy and so joyful after being through things that I've been through also. She was just so happy.
"I gave my heart to the Lord then, but it was also just the beginning. I was still sore. I never gave everything [up] because it was a big thing for me to trust something or someone else with my life. It wasn't till the start of the year that I had a true encounter with God and the moment that I did, I never looked back. I just kept moving forward and trusting in God that He has a plan for my life."
Walker says he's gone from being a broken, depressed, confused and insecure little boy to a man of God.
"He gave me hope when I no longer had any. He gave me the security that I needed and I know that nothing's impossible with Him. I've got a purpose and a plan and a destiny and, with God in my life, I'm just sure of it."
You could put it down to youthful naivety, but Walker is now unabashed about his relationship with God and is prepared to admit his faith despite the industry's general disdain of religion.
"Why should I be embarrassed about being a Christian?" he asks with an air of wonderment.
"The least I could do is to say that I'm a Christian and that I represent God. There's nothing to be ashamed of, because He's the One who saved me and got me to where I am. He's given me the opportunity, so the least I could do is to give Him a mention. Why should I be silent about it?"
And that relationship with God, according to him, is getting stronger and better everyday.
Walker also realises that being in the limelight means being a role model and he is keen to use that to his advantage. His story and experience gives him the opportunity and ability to represent a population of the community who feel isolated and disconnected from mainstream society.
"I want to be an ambassador for broken people who come from the dark into the light. I want to live by actions and not by words."
That action, according to Walker, is to "live everyday life as God intends for you to live, and having a stand in everything you do."
As Walker embarks on his musical journey, he knows that he has so much more ahead of him-and not simply in terms of his career. His relationship with God may have given him hope, but he is still continuing to heal from his troubled life.
But Walker is determined to share his positive experience with anybody who will listen. While already writing and planning songs for his next album, he wants to "talk about stuff that's happening that's relevant today. It's not about colour or race but about things that are happening today that are not really talked about. I want to confront those issues and talk about the real things that are happening in real people's lives."
He recognises the privilege and responsibility of his position, saying, "I am a son of God who has been given a gift to use to glorify Him and, hopefully, inspire people so that they can see there is life and hope beyond their current circumstance. I hope they can see where I was and where I am now and gain some sort of hope and encouragement."
As the lyrics to his song "Black Box" go, "You can't stop a true survivor; / you'll discover that on your own; / cause I'm a true survivor / and I'll be there after you're gone."
Walker survived his perilous childhood through finding a caring God and along with Him, personal hope and higher aspirations. It's also something he's ready to share with others. And from all accounts and observation to date, will do so.
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