Chapter Oh: One on one with Anthony Callea
I remember when a 21-year-old Anthony Callea took to the stage of Australian Idol and stunned the country with his inspired rendition of ‘The Prayer’.
Despite my not inconsiderable reservations about the televised singing contest, I was genuinely moved by Callea’s performance. He may be slight in stature, but he has a potent tenor voice that hammered home every note of the demanding bi-lingual ballad.
On Australian Idol, Callea was a good Italian boy, all crisp collared shirts, sensible black pants and a smart blazer when the song called for it. He was polite and awkward, with a hint of shy camp – very different to the Callea who greets me in the foyer of Vibe hotel in Sydney on a Tuesday morning.
Now 28, Callea is confident and affable, clearly comfortable in his own skin. His sentences are punctuated by wild gesticulations and a big, hearty laugh. He’s never short of sentence and has an amusing wit – slightly catty, but charming. He makes a joke about Taylor Dayne, whose video is playing on a nearby television, but I won’t repeat it here. His hair is fashioned into a short Mohawk and there’s a subtle element of Euro trash to his urban-casual outfit. It appears he’s recently had a spray-tan – he did perform at gay nightclub Arq on the weekend after all. His smile and the way he chortles is infectious, and he has sparkling bedroom eyes.
After a five-year hiatus, Callea has just released a new single titled ‘Oh Oh Oh Oh’. Written with DJ Poet, who’s known for his work with The Black Eyed Peas, in Los Angeles, the song fuses a 70s disco vibe with modern pop and R&B. It’s light, catchy and fun – and a major change of direction for an artist known for his chesty power ballads.
“Poet is loopy!” Callea tells AXN. “But when you work with The Black Eyed Peas and live in LA, you have to be somewhat loopy! But I say that in the nicest way possible – it’s a good loopy! And I come from an Italian family so I’m used to keeping up!
“It was just good to be in a new environment and work with new people constantly. To be able to walk into a room without anyone having preconceptions about you was refreshing.”
Callea’s vocals are almost unrecognisable on ‘Oh Oh Oh Oh’ – they are treated with heavy effects and auto-tune.
“I wanted to use my voice as an instrument,” he says. “Especially in the verses, I didn’t want it to be: ‘there’s the track, there’s the melody and I’m just going to sing that on top’. So obviously it opens up in the chorus and it’s a lot more anthemic, but I know what you’re getting at in terms of the vocal effects and the auto-tune – and a few people have said it – but I see it as more of a production effect. I did sing it in tune!”
The Callea of today seems thoroughly unconcerned with expectations. To a large extent it seems LA was an escape – a chance to just create in an unfettered way, without the weight of expectation.
“In eight years, hopefully I’ve learnt a few things along the way,” he muses. “One of them is just to go with your gut instinct. Everyone is always going to have an opinion and that’s great, but don’t let that cloud you.”
With a second single set for release soon, Callea is looking to drop the as-yet-untitled album early next year.
“‘Ohx4’ is definitely a taste of the album,” he laughs. “I worked with some really cool dance and pop producers, so that definitely comes through in a lot of the material, but there are also some ballads as well. There’s a positive, fun, Euro element to a lot of the tracks.”
Callea has been hitting the gay clubs to promote his new material, including a set at Homesexual’s White Party in Sydney on the October long weekend alongside British pop diva Sophie Ellis Bexter.
“I was a little bit nervous because it was the first time I performed those tracks live,” he admits. “But at that time of the morning, most people are off their chops! Or they’re definitely on their way! So you know what? It doesn’t really matter!”
In 2007, after speculation and tabloid rumours dating back to his time on Australian Idol, Callea came out publicly as gay. He has been in a relationship with fellow performer Tim Campbell since 2008.
“When I went through Idol I was 21,” Callea says. “I was still trying to find myself I suppose. But I got to a point where I was just comfortable. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, and at the end of the day it’s really no one’s business. But I understand that when you do the job that I’m doing, there’s an element of interest there.”
Although Callea recorded a message for Mardi Gras’ ‘Say Something’ campaign earlier this year, he is reluctant to become a martyr for the gay rights cause.
“Me just doing what I do and living a normal life – I think that’s just as positive and big a message,” he muses. “Just showing that I live with my partner in the suburbs in a normal house with a dog – life is just normal for us.”
Nevertheless, Callea refuses to judge those who choose not be open about their sexuality.
“We don’t know what’s going on in their heads, and we don’t know their background, situation or upbringing. So I’m not going to sit here and judge anyone. Nobody’s perfect, and at the end of the day we all have choices.”
The gay community can actually amplify the issue as well, Callea continues. “If you constantly harp on about the differences of sexuality; if it’s always written as different and argumentative, then I think that creates an issue and a divide.”
Even though Callea’s family is Catholic, they have been nothing but supportive.
“I was at my cousin’s wedding with Tim and we were sitting in this church and there was a massive crack in the roof. He took a photo of me during the ceremony with the crack in the background on his iPhone and sent it to me in a text, with the message: ‘This is what you did. This is what happens when you walk into a church’. It was very cheeky!”
As he talks about Campbell, Callea’s face literally lights up. He is one loved-up man.
“I’m comfortable in my own skin and I’m happy.”
‘Oh Oh Oh Oh’ is available now on iTunes.
For more information on Anthony Callea, head to www.anthonycallea.com.
Author - Garrett Bithell Gay Network News - 2-11-2011
Photographer - Peter Brew-Bevan
source - http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/feature/feature/2573-chapter-oh-one-on-one-with-anthony-callea.html