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  • Vasili Papathanasopoulos


Read our interview with the Australian Idol winner below!

Image: Supplied.

On Sunday night, Australia crowned it's new Idol. Royston Sagigi-Baira was named the winner of Australian Idol's return season, releasing his debut single Invincible. We caught up with the musician to chat about his Idol journey and what the future holds.

Entering the competition as a Queensland-based youth worker, Sagigi-Baira gave a powerful and moving rendition of Sam Smith’s You Know I’m Not The Only One. There were some slight nerves, but his power and control was impeccable. Judge Meghan Trainor rold Sagigi-Baira “I only have one word for you…”, and when I tell you I knew she was going to cry “SLAAAYYYY” I’m not lying. And she did, with a strong conviction behind her words. Sagigi-Baira earned a yes from each panel, continuing on to bootcamp where he sings Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball in the chorus line. The singer was then paired with Maya Weiss, Phoebe Stewart, Sharin Attamimi and Montana Lara, where they formed the group '5 Soul.’ They tackled Jess Glynn’s I’ll Be There, working wonderfully together to deliver a moving performance where each contestants performance felt organic. No one overpowered anyone else, and it was just a wholesome performance that saw each contestant progress to the next round.

For his top thirty two performance, Sagigi-Baira performed Billie Eilish’s Everything I Wanted. Judge Harry Connick Jr. asked him if he can see himself as the 2023 Australian Idol. “I don’t wanna toot my own horn or anything but like you know I’ve always always dreamt of this,” says Sagigi-Baira and goes on to cite Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy as a big influence. He gave a solid performance that placed him in the top twenty-four where he moved away from the ballad-based performances he’s presented so far, in the hopes of a more playful side of his artistry. He took on Bruno Mars’ Versace On The Floor, which wasn't his strongest offering. He started to loosen up adding in some dance moves and more interaction which boosted the performance, but perhaps nerves just got the best of him. The judges also comment it wasn’t Sagigi-Baira’s best, but were pleased with what they heard and he secured his place in the top twelve.

For the first live show, Sagigi-Baira closed the show with Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror. We’ve hit another fun production staging moment, with the contestant surrounded in circular mirrors. Sagigi-Baira never seems to fault, delivering a big vocal performance that transitioned into an epic key change. He used the performance to send a message to clean up our act as climate change continues to impact worldwide, and in particular his cultural homeland of the Torres Strait Islands.

For his top ten performance, Sagigi-Baira provided one of the series’ most emotional moments. The judges had presented four song choices, James Arthur’s Impossible, John Legend’s All Of Me, James Morrison's I Won’t Let You Go and Sam Smith’s Promises. He selected I Won’t Let You Go due to his personal connection to the song. Sagigi-Baira performed the song at his mothers funeral, and shared how special his relationship with his late mother was. He channeled that emotion to deliver an outstanding performance. His connection to the song shone through and he delivered incredible powerful vocals. The judges loved every second, and it was judge Amy Shark who selected the song having had no knowledge on Sagigi-Baira’s connection to the track. In another wholesome moment, the contestant was surprised by his brother who was sitting in the audience to watch him perform.

For 'Heroes and Tributes' week, Sagigi-Baira notes his passion for music grew thanks to his year two teacher Miss Alex. He chose to sing The Climb by Miley Cyrus which hit me for two reasons. One, I LOVE Miley. She can do no wrong and her new album, Endless Summer Vacation, is incredible. Two, it really speaks to his journey and finding that belief in himself and his talent. As always, he delivered a great performance. The key change gave me a few goosebumps as the spotlights erupted behind him and he began to add his own vocal runs. “Miss Alex I hope you’re very proud wherever you are watching from” said Shark. Connick Jr. commended him for consistently making great song choices, but felt he lost focus with his technical work and he’s right. It was a great performance, but not his strongest. Host then Ricki-Lee then sent us all to tears when she announced there’s a special surprise for Sagigi-Baira. Yep, Miss Alex was standing just to the side. If you tell me you didn’t tear up, I won’t believe you.

In the semi-final, the audience have chosen Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors for Sagigi-Baira, much to his excitement. He sang the song to his younger self, getting emotional as he shared the insecurity he felt in his youth and feeling comfortable in his sexuality. It was an emotional performance that led to the following night where he sang Foreigner’s I Wanna Know What Love Is. He was a bit shaky at first, having said earlier in the show he was nervous to find out the outcome of the voting, but he was right at home as he hit those higher notes. And with that, Sagigi-Baira earned his place in the grand final.

Kicking off the grand final alongside fellow top three contestants Phoebe Stewart and Josh Hannan, the top twelve joined them to perform Ed Sheeran’s Celestial. For his first solo performance of the night, Sagigi-Baira took to the stage to sing Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me. What can I say but another flawless performance. His control and his tone is unmatched, each week he just steps it up and leans more into his confidence with ease. "I'd love for you to be crowned Australian Idol, I really would," says Sandilands, whilst Trainor's "baby's doing backflips right now because they love you as much as I do." His brother reveals there is "Royston hysteria" in their community, to the point he can't even make it to work on time with how many people stop him on his way there to chat about Royston's performances.

Making it through to the top two, his final performance as a contestant was Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey's When You Believe. Honestly, all I can say is: once again, flawless. Goosebumps. What a song choice. And then you pulled through Australia. Ricki-Lee announced the winner of Australian Idol is Royston Sagigi-Baira. There's confetti everywhere, rapturous applause and cheers from the crowd and for the first time in fourteen years, we have a new Australian Idol, The show closes with Sagigi-Baira performing his moving and powerful winners single, Invincible, which is out on all streaming platforms now.

Congratulations winning Australian Idol! That was so epic. I was there last night, it was such a great night.

Oh, yay. It was! Thank you so much. I'm just on a high right now.

I can imagine. Firstly, how does it feel to be the first Australian idol in 14 years?

It feels wild [laughs]. I can't even believe those words right now [laughs]. It still is such a dream and, I think it'll take me a few weeks to really, you know come to terms with that [laughs]. It just feels amazing and I'm so grateful that Australia believes in me and was voting for me. It's because of [the] Australian public that I'm here, you know? And I won. So I just really wanna say thank you to them, and that I'm so appreciative and grateful, literally. Honestly.

Just as you were saying that, I realised that you and Josh [Hannan] were the only two that never ended up in the bottom four.

Yeah, we never were. It's so crazy. That just goes to show how much, you know, Australia really embraced me and my story and my... obviously my talent too, you know? And yeah, I'm just so grateful.

I'm so glad to see you win and throughout the competition you've said that you wanted to be a symbol and beacon for people that they can do anything that they set their mind to. So what do you think that your win will mean for those who do relate with you in your journey?

I think it's just a testament to anyone that, you know doesn't matter where you come from. If you've been through all these tough times through your life, it doesn't matter if you've been bullied for it or anything like that, as long as you work hard and you keep going, you can really follow your dream. You know, I come from a small indigenous community in far north Queensland and here I am winning Australian idol. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would've won a show like this, that has [launched] people from the likes of Guy Sebastian, Casey Donovan it's so insane. I'm just so grateful and I can't believe I'm even saying that right now! It still feels very shocking to hear people say that. I'm just so grateful and just, I can't believe it. Like, this is the first day of my new life. It's really wild.

It's so exciting. My colleague here at MILKY said at your audition "Royston's going to win". So taking it back all those months ago, what drew you to wanting to audition for Australian Idol?

Well someone reached out to me. It was one of the, I think a recruiting producer or something. I think they saw my Instagram and they just reached out and said, 'Hey, just letting you know Australian Idol auditions are open, we would love you to apply.' Because I was fully invested in uni and everything like that with music and I was like, 'oh yeah, I might give it a go, see what happens.' Because it's really tough trying to put yourself out there and not knowing how the judges are gonna take you and stuff, you know? So I was kind of hesitant, but I was like, 'you know, what's the worst? I'm here following my dreams, I might as well do this and see how we go.' And I'm so glad that I did and I took that leap of faith, you know?

I'm so glad you did too. Obviously there were lots of parts to Idol. Auditions, bootcamp, live shows, all that kind of fun stuff. How do you think that your artistry, and I guess your own confidence as a performer evolved and grew throughout that time?

Oh, it grew so much. I remember in the auditions I was so nervous and just extremely nervous and I didn't know how the judges were gonna take me. It's so scary, especially singing in front of four people in an empty room, I'd rather sing in front of thousands of people. Singing in front of four people that are all celebrities, [laughs] yeah, it was really hard. I think I've just grown so much more confident since that audition and it's so validating when you hear the judges say you're a good singer, you did a good performance, and say all these really lovely things. I think my confidence has grown so much, and I'm just honestly so grateful for the opportunity of Idol. And I'm so glad that idol's back as well.

Yeah, me too. It's such a fun format. Now apart from winning, what's been your favourite moment?

I don't know, there's a few. Like when I got surprised by my brother being there after I sung my song, you know for my mom who's passed now, that was really special. It was really nice to have, because before that I didn't have any siblings or anyone that was there for me in the audience. They all live in far North Queensland and it was so expensive to get tickets to Sydney. So that was really lovely and very special. And then the week after my teacher came out, when I dedicated my heroes week to my primary school teacher who basically gave me the gift of music through a High School Musical DVD and it was so special that she was there. That was really, really lovely too. That was a highlight as well.

So special. As I mentioned earlier, it has been 14 years since Idol aired. Obviously the landscape of the music industry has changed a lot since then. Now people can get a career on TikTok and social media platforms. But how do you think that the show, in a contemporary setting can change the trajectory of someone's life and career? Obviously, you've just come out the other end and like you said, you're starting a new life today.

Yeah, it can change everything. I mean, there's opportunities to win, a recording contract and going to America, prize money, that could change anyone's life, you know? I'm so glad that they're back and yeah it's so amazing. I'm just so grateful, honestly. And I can't believe... I still can't believe I'm the winner of all that, it's just so insane.

Like you said, it'll sink in next week and you'll be like, 'oh my gosh, what?!' But you did some amazing songs throughout the competition, your our song choices were always great. The one last night, When You Believe was insane. That's such a good song and I feel like so many people don't know that song. So I was like, 'yes!' Were there any songs that you didn't get to perform, that you would've loved to have done?

When You Believe was a big one that I wanted to sing, I'm so glad they got the clearance for that and we were allowed to do that. But I really wanted to do Un-break My Heart by Toni Braxton and I think it's such a big song and yeah, I really wanted to do it for the Grand Final, but I don't think they could clear the song. It would've been so amazing. There's so many different songs I would've loved to do. My Heart Will Go On was another big one I wanted to do for the Grand Final but I couldn't get that cleared. But I'm really happy with the songs I did for the Grand Final and throughout the whole competition honestly.

Like I said, they were always such great song choices. Idol is such a massive production. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes, quite a gruelling schedule for the contestants just a super intense experience. Something that really only your fellow contestants will understand. But now you're the winner, you've got the contract with Sony Music Australia, you're going to be putting out music. How do you think that your time on the show has prepared you moving forward in your career?

It's prepared me in so many different ways, like from being a professional on stage, finding the cameras and working the stage. So much, the sound and how to really mix your sound and ask for a build a bit louder or vocals a little bit louder, band, you know all these little things that I didn't really know about. I'm really happy I got the experiences and really learn over the course of the show. And yeah, I'm really excited to take all these skills into my career.

Your single Invincible dropped right after the show, which is super fun.

Yes! Invincible. It's out now on all platforms. You can go stream it.

Can you tell me a bit about working on that song and what it means to you?

Yeah, it was really fun. We got to sit down and go over the song in the early stages and get a vibe of it and change melodies or lyrics and obviously cause you know, Australia Idol and the quick turnaround it wasn't too long and stuff. But you know they gave us the option to change stuff, which is really nice. And yeah, we got to work with really amazing producers in the studio and yeah, I'm just so happy with the song. Like it resonates with me so much and I'm so glad that I released it. It's such a good song, honestly.

It was so great. It was the perfect way to end Australian Idol's comeback season. What would your advice be to someone who wants to audition for the show next season?

My advice would be just keep going, you know? And if you have bad days, just let yourself have bad days. Just sleep it off, because yeah, it's gonna be a lot. The schedules are a lot, but just keep pushing and get the help you need. There's an amazing psychologist that works on the show. Make sure you get sleep as well. Don't be staying up late, it's been hard sometimes after the show night you want to stay up and read all the comments and reply back to everyone, but you just really got to get in your zone and go to sleep, and really focus on what's happening the next day. Because sleep is very important too. [laughs]

It's good advice. That's advice I need to take because I barely sleep and it's terrible. So I'm taking your advice Royston [laughs]. To finish off, what is next for you? What are you hoping to do with your new career?

Yeah, release new music. You know, I get the opportunity to go to America and work with industry people over there, which I'm so excited about, and yeah, I'm just really keen to get in the studio and be creative.

Invincible is out now! Stream Australian Idol on 7 Plus.


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