Indigenous singer-songwriter Donovan – a former Australian Idol winner and recent reality-TV show victor – was eight years old when her interest in the music of pop star George Michael was sparked.
“My generation were lucky enough to grab the last sections of what he was doing,” she says.
“I remember going on a family holiday and ‘Faith’ came on the radio and there was something about the guitar that just triggered me, so I guess I’ve been a long-time fan.
“I think it’s his voice,” she adds, seeking to explain the late star’s enduring appeal.
“He’s just got this magical tone and textures within his voice … it also has that massive pop background with a bit of synth sound, and you can’t go wrong with an ’80s ballad!”
Donovan is one of a line-up of singers including Hugh Sheridan, Rob Mills, Bobby Fox and Andrew De Silva who will join the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in February for a tribute concert titled George Michael: Listen to Your Heart. It will be presented just over a year after Michael’s death on Christmas Day 2016 and marks the 30th anniversary of his debut solo album Faith.
The concert, under the musical direction of John Foreman, will feature a range of his songs, “from heart-wrenching torch ballads to his sugary pop trifles”, including the likes of “Careless Whisper”, “Father Figure”, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” (from his days with Wham) and “Freedom”.
Donovan doesn’t know which songs she will be singing yet, but says “Faith” remains one of her favourites, along with the George Michael and Aretha Franklin hit “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”, which she has previously performed with fellow former Idol contestant Anthony Callea in his live show The Songs of George Michael.
“They’re all great songs and we get to perform them with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and that’s another level of awesomeness, so whatever I’m given I’m happy to oblige.”
Being asked to join the cast for the tribute show topped off a triumphant year for Donovan, who won Network Ten’s I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! in March, released a new EP, Off the Grid and Somewhere in Between, in August, and then embarked on a tour in support of the release.
I really wanted to start 2017 with a bang
The independent EP (which includes the single “The Villain”, in the video clip below) was funded partly by a Kickstarter campaign in which she acknowledged she felt she had lost touch with who she was as a singer.
“When I first started the Kickstarter, I was between jobs – I was Uber driving,” Donovan tells InDaily.
“For so many years I was just singing cover songs and I really wanted to break that, because I first started this music career writing originals and being a lyricist and loving original music and being a singer-songwriter. Over the years I lost that – I was too busy singing everyone else’s songs – so I really wanted to start 2017 with a bang.
“I kind of put my career a little bit on the line. I would have probably continued Uber driving and gone and got a nine-to-five job if it didn’t come through.
“I’m so thankful to the people that have jumped on board with it [the EP] and the new fans.”
Starting 2017 with a bang also involved heading off to the South African jungle for 45 days, eating all manner of dubious foods and taking part in confronting challenges to ultimately win I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!
Although she has released more music since her Idol win in 2004, as well as publishing a book, headlining a Mama Cass tribute show, and performing in theatre shows and musicals, Donovan says she felt many Australians remembered her as “the 16 year old girl who was on Idol with the dreadlocks and she was a bit, you know, misguided in life”.
One of her motivations for going on the TV show was to show people “the real me”.
“I’ve been slogging away for a while now and to take myself out of every comfort zone that I know in life and put myself through that was challenging, but the year that I’ve had has been absolutely amazing.
“Just to be back in the game and back out there, you know, having people know that I’m still around – it’s been really good.
“So it’s really helped my career along … and now I get to do some George Michael next year in Adelaide.”
George Michael: Listen to Your Heart also represents another new experience for Donovan: it will be the first time she has performed with a symphony orchestra.
“I’m excited and nervous, but mostly excited.”
George Michael: Listen to Your Heart will be presented by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at the Festival Theatre on February 15 and 16.
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