This is a story I’ve told a bunch of times, but it tends to make people very happy when they read it. The most important bits involve epilepsy, a car crash, true love and a hugely disturbing afternoon for a former pop diva. The less important bits involve me getting physically ejected from a popular radio station and talking to a dead woman while waiting in line for KFC, so, even if it’s not all Pulitzer-level heartache, it’s still pretty interesting.
If nothing else, it’s a story about good people, bad music and the triumph of a 17-year-old jerk whose name was John Robertson. My name is still John Robertson; it’s just that now I’m 29. Still a jerk… just more experienced.
This is me at a quiz night in October, 2002.
I had one great desire when I was 17, which was to perform outlandish acts and not be asked “Why?” As in, “Why are you doing these terrible things? We’re just peacefully living our lives. Please stop screaming at us, you alarming shit!”
It was my teenage dream to be understood implicitly while behaving strangely, the logic being that, if everyone “got it”, then the world couldn’t be boring. For this reason, I dry-heaved on the legs of pedestrians, aggressively offered bits of chicken to strangers in the street and carried a dictaphone that could be used to play dramatic music when I was talking. I chatted to myself on trains and stuck blu-tack to my face, then refused to acknowledge it was there. I did all these things to be understood! Understood, damn you! Doesn’t that make complete sense?
I also had the unstoppable desire to be famous that comes with a large ego and no talent. My best friend, Mel, thought I was very funny. Most others thought I was just deranged and/or in need of national service.
Fortunately, there was Australian Idol.
On the 27th July 2003, I was broadcast into over a million homes for 30 glorious, unedited seconds that Channel 10 will never get back. I’d auditioned for the show a month or so before, but wasn’t sure what I did would be broadcast.
I learned it had when my phone went off at a party. It was my old mate Tom, who was living in Melbourne.
“John,” he asked, “Was it your intention to look… insane?”
Suitably prepared, thanks to the time difference, the party sat down two hours later to watch the show. We saw a legion of wannabes, prodigies, freaks, weirdoes and the talentless-but-keen as they sang, wailed and yowled for ‘70s pop sensations Mark Holden (threw roses at the crowd), Marcia Hines (threw herself) and “Dicko”, an English music exec who subbed as our own rotund, low-rent Simon Cowell.
And there I was.
That’s me, spasming while screaming The Trashmen’s ‘60s classic ‘Surfin’ Bird’, a song some of you will only know from Family Guy. Look how much fun Mark Holden is having! Look how worried Marcia Hines is! Look at Dicko, who knows a lack of commercial potential when he sees it!
For months afterwards in my hometown, I was “The Australian Idol Guy” or “The Bird is The Word Guy”. Ramones fans shook my hand, because they loved that song. Teenyboppers were disgusted that I wasted the judge’s time. Serious people thought I’d embarrassed myself. Odd people came to me for life advice. Some people loved that I’d shown up how terrible reality shows are. Channel 10 broadcast it 12 times, because they know how terrible reality shows are.
I had been on the highest-rated programme in Australia, gotten noticed, hated, half-applauded, and managed to make no money out of it at all. It was a huge success.
Let’s not dwell on that, however, because now you need to hear about a brutal tragedy.
While I was auditioning for the show that would turn Guy Sebastian into an automatic has-been, the woman who would later become my wife was in a horrific car accident.
Her then-boyfriend was driving them both down a country road at an incredible clip, when they smashed into an oncoming car. In the impact, her legs were shattered, her wrist was broken and a shard of glass from the windscreen sheared through the top of her skull, leaving her partially scalped.
For a time, she we legally dead. She came back to life on the operating table.
The boyfriend broke his little finger, because the world refuses to dole out pain evenly.
This mass of trauma left her comatose. When the coma ended, she began a routine of surgeries and pain medication and physiotherapy, capped off with the fatigue and drudgery of an extended hospital stay.
One day, bored out her mind, she turned on the TV from her hospital bed – and saw me, writhing and flailing on Australian Idol.
She thought to herself, “I’d like to meet that man.”
Flash-forward a year and I was taken to see a play, which it turned out she’d directed. The boyfriend was the star. I’d never met either of them, nor heard anything about their accident. What I knew was, I was watching a play – and I hated the lead actor.
Like all natural turds, I’m delighted by any trip to the theatre that involves a bad actor, since I can then talk about the depths of their failure for many, many months. His performance had given me ammo for many dinner parties; my discussion of the show would be a production longer than the play.
The next day, however, I went to buy some KFC – and he was in front of me in the line. Since I will mess with people, I tapped him on the shoulder and announced that I’d enjoyed him in the play the night before. It seemed the right thing to do, since I’m not an actor of any great talent – and everybody likes praise – and I was bored.
He said, “Thank you”, then turned his back on me.
There was a pause.
Then he turned back around.
“AUSTRALIAN IDOL GUY!” he said. “MY GIRLFRIEND FUCKING LOVES YOU!”
And he put me on the phone to her. We had a conversation that she can’t remember, because she was high on morphine – and I can, because I was high on recognition.
Another 6 months passed. My Australian Idol notoriety wilted away, she remained in her wheelchair, he moved to a city in another state and slept with someone new… their relationship finished on the phone.
Eventually, she learned to walk without crutches.
And got bored.
And went to a party.
At the party, there was a young man with long blonde hair, who’d faked a seizure on Australian Idol, while screaming the most ridiculous song he knew.
She said, “Australian Idol guy!”
And it all worked out from there.
We were married last year. Here’s the Bridal Waltz. We didn’t dance, not due to injury – but because swords seemed a better idea.
Also, the “getting thrown out of a radio station” thing? In 2005, I had an audition to be on the Breakfast Crew of a PROMINENT RADIO NETWORK. The Cronulla Riots had just happened and I was manhandled out of the booth after my fifth reference to it, because I thought breakfast radio was where satire went to live. Also, I had fallen asleep on the Station Manager’s desk.
Before we started recording, one of the announcers told me she’d been on Australian Idol. I said to her, “I was on that!”
She asked, “What did you do?” I told her.
She scowled at me and screamed, “YOU GAVE MARCIA HINES NIGHTMARES!”
Totally worth it, Marcia. Totally worth it.
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- And Ray Badran explores procrastination in 'The 7 habits of highly ineffective people'