Four­teen years is a long time to still be get­ting mileage from your five min­utes of re­al­ity TV fame. Long enough per­haps to prove you were al­ways go­ing to get there with­out it.

It’s hard to be­lieve Ricki-Lee Coul­ter first caught the mu­sic in­dus­try’s at­ten­tion when she ap­peared as an 18-year-old on the sec­ond sea­son of Aus­tralian Idol in 2004.

It was the glory days when the se­ries was a rat­ings bo­nanza. Her shock elim­i­na­tion in sev­enth place made front page news, bad cop judge Ian “Dicko” Dick­son de­scrib­ing her de­par­ture as a scan­dal. She laughs at the me­mory.

“I still get peo­ple all the time talk­ing to me about Aus­tralian Idol,” she says. “I went to the doc­tors just the other day and the re­cep­tion­ist said, ‘I cried for days when you were voted off Idol’.”

Ricki-Lee is not the sort of girl who’s pre­cious about how she got her start in the game.

Her early Idol de­par­ture ar­guably didn’t make too much dif­fer­ence in the long run. She was the only con­tes­tant other than the two fi­nal­ists to score a record­ing con­tract, set­ting her on the path she’s never wa­vered from.

She’s back in the spot­light this week with a new sin­gle Un­both­ered, an unashamed pop num­ber – “clas­sic Ricki-Lee at her best” as one re­viewer de­scribes it.

“It’s a bit of an an­them,” she says. “I think it’s got a great mes­sage: walk away from sh---y peo­ple and sh---y sit­u­a­tions.

“It’s all about tak­ing con­trol back.” While the tone is cruisy, the lyrics are sassy: “I don’t care enough to hate you/ I’m just Un­both­ered/ ’Cause hating you is en­ergy/ Now I’m spend­ing it all on me/ Un­both­ered/ Chillin’ with my ap­a­thy/ Don’t give a f--- about you and me/ Un­both­ered.”

It is a song born of ex­pe­ri­ence and, just shy of her 33rd birth­day, why wouldn’t Ricki-Lee use her mu­sic to chan­nel the wis­doms she’s earned?

A pro­lific song­writer – she es­ti­mates she has well over 100 songs in her ware­house – Ricki-Lee de­scribes her­self as an “ab­so­lute sponge”.

“I lis­ten and watch what friends are go­ing through and I draw from that,” she says. “Times in my own life, movies, things I hear, I pick up my phone and I start writ­ing words and singing melodies.

“I think if peo­ple were go­ing through the notes on my phone, they would say, ‘This girl is heavy’.”

Un­both­ered is more the Ricki-Lee style we’re ac­cus­tomed to. Her pre­vi­ous sin­gle Not

Too Late, re­leased more than a year ago, was a bal­lad with a pow­er­house cho­rus that seemed to sig­nal a new di­rec­tion for the pop princess.

But that would be to over­think things. Ricki-Lee says it’s al­ways been about songs for her rather than a “sound”.

Not Too Late came af­ter a three-year break from record­ing. She spent 2015 and 2016 liv­ing in Los An­ge­les, fo­cus­ing solely on song­writ­ing.

“That was my rea­son to go to LA,” she says. “That’s where all the song­writ­ers live and work from. It was very pro­duc­tive. There’s no place like it.

“I’d write with some­one for three or four days, start a few dif­fer­ent ideas, some were half re­alised, some are half songs but I came away with a lot of songs.”

In­ter­est­ingly Not Too Late was the first song she wrote when she re­turned to live in Syd­ney, in­spired by a close friend’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing re­la­tion­ship with his hus­band.

She says it’s prob­a­bly her favourite song from her ex­ten­sive cache that in­cludes a string of Top 10 and 20 hits, gold and plat­inum al­bums, an ARIA Song of the Year nom­i­na­tion, even a sin­gle that fea­tured on the sound­track of the Sex and the City 2 film that won her a le­gion of in­ter­na­tional fans.

“That brought on a whole wave of suc­cess in the UK and Ja­pan,” she says. “I’m so grate­ful for that. I’ve been very lucky with the sup­port I’ve got.”

In­deed Ricki-Lee has a broad fan base. There are dot­ing mums and nans who’ve fol­lowed her since her Idol days, young adults who grew up as she did, kids who love her pop songs and a strong fol­low­ing from the LGBT com­mu­nity.

“When I per­form live, it’s def­i­nitely not your usual au­di­ence,” she says. “There’s al­ways a mish-mash of dif­fer­ent peo­ple of all va­ri­eties. I love it.”

Ricki-Lee would love to tour again next year but in the mean­time, fans were able to whet their ap­petite with her ap­pear­ances in the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies of the Com­mon­wealth Games in her beloved home town in April.

“Be­ing a Gold Coast girl, I was hon­oured,” she says. “I re­mem­ber watch­ing the Syd­ney Olympics open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies with Nikki Web­ster, John Farn­ham, Olivia New­ton-John, Tina Arena.

“I wished one day I could be on a stage like that; it would be such an amaz­ing feel­ing. It was my dream and to ac­tu­ally get to do it, I just had the best time.”

Ricki-Lee was born in New Zealand but came to Queens­land with her teenage sin­gle mum when she was just three weeks old.

She’s spo­ken in the past about her dif­fi­cult child­hood, with her mum work­ing two jobs to sup­port them, and be­ing farmed out to rel­a­tives while her mum pur­sued a party life­style in her younger days.

At school Ricki-Lee was a tal­ented sportswoman. Her mu­si­cal abil­ity was only dis­cov­ered later at 15 when her mother heard her singing in her bed­room. It led to live gigs with lo­cal bands and star­ring in school mu­si­cal pro­duc­tions.

At 15 she also met the man who was to be her first hus­band, then 23-year-old builder Jamie Bab­bing­ton. They mar­ried in 2007 when Ricki-Lee was 21 but sep­a­rated a year later.

In 2009, she met the man who would be­come her man­ager Richard Har­ri­son who Ricki-Lee de­scribes as “an amaz­ing man”. The two mar­ried in 2015.

“I’m still as ob­sessed with him as the day we first met,” she says. “I have def­i­nitely found my match. I should prob­a­bly shut up and stop bang­ing on about that. I’ve writ­ten so many love songs about him. I’ll try not to put out too many about it.”

The one-time poster girl for curvy girls has dropped more than 30kg since they’ve been to­gether, iron­i­cally spark­ing some neg­a­tive chat­ter on so­cial me­dia, but Ricki-Lee is un­apolo­getic about her de­ci­sion to change her diet and life­style.

In 2014 she at­tracted more so­cial me­dia re­sponse when she re­vealed how she and Richard had de­cided early on not to have chil­dren.

“I just plan to be an over­bear­ing mother to my songs,” she laughs. “A he­li­copter par­ent – you couldn’t de­scribe me bet­ter than that. I like to be in­volved in ev­ery lit­tle de­tail.”

Ricki-Lee says there’ll be more songs com­ing next year.

“I’m so ob­sessed with what I do, there’s no slack­ing off,” she says. “I work hard and my fo­cus is on mak­ing mu­sic. I’ve been lucky and lots of amaz­ing things have hap­pened for me, but I’ve worked my arse off too.

“I want to get out on tour again. I love that in­ter­ac­tion. I’m aim­ing for peo­ple to be sick of me.”

Like most true artists, Ricki-Lee ex­pe­ri­ences her cre­ative bursts and troughs.

“I can go days and weeks when noth­ing comes out,” she says. “It’s like I’ve for­got­ten how to write songs. I feel like a fraud. So when in­spi­ra­tion comes you jump on it.”

She ad­mits she of­ten drives with her phone on record and spills out what’s in her head while she’s in the car: riffs, melodies, lyrics, ideas, voice memos.

“I think the thing with songs is they’re like lit­tle snap­shots,” she says.

“They’re best when they’re hon­est and raw and vul­ner­a­ble.

“Some songs I wrote over 10 years ago and I still love them be­cause you don’t for­get the feel­ings you had that you wrote about. They take you back to a time in your life that you’ve been through.”

She says the early re­ac­tion to Un­both­ered has been amaz­ing.

“Peo­ple have said to me, ‘I needed this song so much right now, it’s like you were in my head’,” she says. “When some­one can take some­thing out of one of your songs, that’s a good feel­ing.”


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