“I have got nothing to hide”
A lot has changed for Guy Sebastian in the 15 years since he was crowned Australian Idol. But as the singer tells Stellar, he never lost faith in the things that mattered to him
A lot has changed in the 15 years since Guy Sebastian was crowned the ﬁrst Australian Idol. The singer opens up to Stellar about going through a tough couple of years – including a bitter legal battle and losing loved ones – and how it has all brought him closer to wife Jules.
Back in 2003, Guy Sebastian was a peppy, unknown 22-year-old from Adelaide, a young man with a wild shock of hair and deep love of music who found himself at the white-hot centre of what was at the time the country’s most talked-about new TV show.
And when Sebastian took out Australian Idol’s ﬁrst-ever win in front of 3.3 million viewers that November, he was also something of an anomaly. He didn’t look, let alone act, like the big male chart-toppers of the moment – the Justin Timberlakes and Eminems of the world. He had a girlfriend of several years, Jules Egan, who he met while they were singing at church. And he was a devout Christian, who wore both his faith and his heart on his sleeve.
More than 15 years later, the Guy Sebastian who sits down to talk with Stellar long ago ﬁrmed up his place as not just the O.G. (original gangster) of musical reality TV in Australia, but also as one of our most widely liked and popular singers. Now 37, he has numerous hit albums and singles to his credit. He’s lent his surname to a charitable foundation. He has performed at Eurovision and won four ARIAs. He married Jules, and they had two sons. He’s also not the same regular churchgoer he once was.
During his Idol years, Sebastian’s faith became a topic of national discussion. And while he hasn’t exactly lost his religion in the past decade, he’s certainly questioned it. “I grew up heavily involved in church,” Sebastian tells Stellar. “There’s quite a few things that didn’t sit well with me. Most people of faith, once they step away from it and have human contact from outside, realise that life’s a lot more complex than just black-and-white statements. I’d love my kids to go to church, but I don’t want them to live in a bubble.
“I should probably go to church – I feel this sense of peace when I go. But I don’t want to go to a church that has a corporate structure or a business slant to it. There’s enough of that in my life.
“When you come through something in the public eye, people want you to be their poster boy. You end up being labelled as things you know aren’t who you are. I’d get tagged with Family First; I’d never met anyone from there, maybe I have, but I didn’t know. I was getting associated with weird things that didn’t sit well with me.”
Still, Sebastian is loyal – at least until things start, well, not sitting well with him. Aside from Jules, one of the longest and most important relationships he had for many years was with manager Titus Day – the men were also friends whose families had grown up together. But in late 2017, the two parted ways. What was at ﬁrst described as amicable quickly turned bitter, and is now in the Federal Court.
Sebastian is claiming more than $200,000 in what he says are unpaid commissions over endorsement deals (including a sunscreen company) and performance fees. Day is counter-suing. The two have also had personal emails aired in the media, full of barbs to each other, with the case fodder for media coverage due to his fame.
“It hasn’t been an easy couple of years. We’ve had a lot all at once to deal with”
“It’s a massive shame,” Sebastian says of the battle. “I have never been in court; I’ve never had any legal thing ever. I have emotionally disconnected from it now, which is really healthy. I was in a pretty dark place.”
As Sebastian sees it, “Artists – we’re really not good with money… I’ve got nothing to hide. That’s a nice place to be.”
But even in his bleakest moments, Sebastian always had his family – Jules and sons Hudson, seven and Archer, ﬁve – to bring him comfort and support. Even today, his face still becomes aglow when he talks about Jules. “In the last six months we’ve become closer than ever. It hasn’t been an easy couple of years, between the legal stuff, building our house has been stressful, raising kids, losing loved ones, and Jules’s parents have had some health problems. We’ve had a lot all at once to deal with. That’s part of getting older. Life just throws stuff at you and you realise you’ve got each other and that’s the most important thing.”
One of Sebastian’s new songs, ‘Believer’, is about his wife – a stylist and blogger who hosts the Tea With Jules YouTube channel and runs The Sebastian Foundation with him. “People see so much conﬁdence in a couple that’s in the public eye, but sometimes you’re so lost,” he says. “As an artist, I feel lost at times. Jules has that juggling act of trying to be the best mum she can be but still having a career. I have to remind her only she puts those pressures on herself.
“I had some relationships before Jules. We split up for about a year. I had some relationships in that year that were really strange, that almost made me run back to Jules with my tail between my legs. Apart from that, Jules is my main source of inspiration when it comes
to writing about romance. We realise we’ve got so much history.”
The pair has nearly ﬁnished building their multimillion dollar dream house – or “fortress”, if you believe the angry neighbour who unloaded to the media – in Sydney. It contains a recording studio for Sebastian, so he can work on music at all hours. “I grew up in Adelaide in an $80,000 house around the corner from the bodies in the barrel, literally,” he says. “We have to show our kids they’re so lucky to live in a house like this. Even to have a house with a pool. As a kid, I dreamt of having a pool. We’re trying to instil into our kids to be grateful and not take things for granted. The kids are the most important job; everything else we do supports that.”
Sebastian never really turned his back on the kinds of TV shows that brought him fame, either. In 2010, he joined The X Factor as a judge, a seat he would ﬁll on and off until 2016. His ABC documentary Don’t Stop The Music followed Sebastian as he aimed to help disadvantaged kids with the art form. And now, in his latest venture, he has a new job as a coach on Nine Network’s The Voice.
Already, he has learnt the hard way that the ‘c’ word is not only tolerated but demanded in the role. That word? Coach. “I’ve messed up a few times,” he admits. “I said the ‘j’ word, judge, which is banned. But I like that. I haven’t got a judgey personality. I’d much rather be a coach, it’s a nicer word. The show is about giving power to the artists – and they’re not contestants, they’re artists. You can’t call them contestants; we’re not a
game show. It gives it so much more dignity. I’m good with it now.”
His ﬁnal year on The X Factor was not a happy one for Sebastian. Looking back on the gig, where he worked alongside Adam Lambert and Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, he says that “it was just childish, with all the bickering. You had guest judges who weren’t invested – and the audiences aren’t stupid, they can see that.” He admits reports of toxic behaviour from Azalea weren’t exaggerated. “Iggy wouldn’t rock up. And when she did, she’d just roll her eyes. I hated it. I really struggled that year.”
Things are different on The Voice. He says working with Delta Goodrem, Boy George and Kelly Rowland has been a breeze by comparison. “Everyone genuinely likes each other. We go in hard with the pitching, but there’s no narkiness. The other coaches probably don’t have much to compare it to, but for me it’s such a positive, nurturing environment. We didn’t have to sit through woeful or embarrassing auditions. I really liked that. It’s deﬁnitely a different DNA to The X Factor.”
Sebastian knows the power of reality TV from both sides of the stage. “I’m in the same boat as the artists we’re trying to ﬁnd on The Voice: I’m still trying to sell tickets and get my songs played on the radio. I was fortunate with the last single [‘Before I Go’] to get radio airplay. But I’ve had times when I couldn’t get anything played on the radio. It’s a really up-and-down industry. You want to take any opportunity you can, but it has to be the right one. You have to have some level of foresight and self-worth.
“The Voice is a no brainer, it’s so great for the coaches, you’re so respected on the show. They don’t limit what we can choose for our artists. The X Factor was starting to scrutinise who we could personally choose; that was hard for me to stomach. The Voice says
you have to believe in who you take through. That’s refreshing to hear.”
Sebastian would like to release an album at some point this year, and later this month will be releasing a new single called ‘Choir’. The title may indicate a callback to his early, pre-Idol days as a worship singer, but there are a few other layers at work. On the surface, it sounds like a party jam. But the song is actually a tribute to friend and bandmate Luke Liang, who took his life last August.
“I sat down and wrote this sad ballad, bawling my eyes out and I thought, ‘Luke wouldn’t want this. If I’m going to write something to represent how I feel about him, it has to be joyous,’” says Sebastian. “The song is about [how] he’s not singing alone anymore, he’s up there singing with a choir, we’re down here singing with him and letting his legacy shine on. I think about Luke so much. It’s weird. I go on his Instagram. You can see the last thing he posted; everything’s captured now. You can see where it ends. It was a pretty hard thing to go through. It’s going to be hard to sing ‘Choir’ for the ﬁrst time; I’m just going to have to block it out.”
Sebastian says Liang’s sudden passing has meant he’s checking in on his friends more regularly. “It really hit us hard. It’s another reminder to talk, and that’s in the lyrics. I know Luke wouldn’t have wanted me to write some soppy ballad about him, he wasn’t that sort of bloke. And that’s what I want for my funeral. I’ve already told Jules. I don’t want ‘Angel’ by Sarah McLachlan playing, I want Parliament-Funkadelic played by a live funk band with horns. I want it to be a celebration!”
The Voice premieres 7pm, Sunday May 19, on the Nine Network.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
GUY WEARS Bally coat, top, pants and sneakers, bally. com.au; (opposite) COS jacket and pants, cosstores.com/au; Scotch & Soda T-shirt, scotch-soda.com.au; his own shoes
GUY WEARS Paul Smith jacket, waistcoat, shirt and pants, paulsmith.com/au; Veja sneakers, veja-store.com
GUY WEARS (above right) Scotch & Soda knit, scotch-soda.com.au; Lacoste pants, lacoste. com.au; his own shoes
(from top) Guy Sebastian in his 2003 audition for Australian Idol; with fellow coach Kelly Rowland on this year’s The Voice; at home with his wife Jules and sons Hudson (left) and Archer at Christmas last year.