A new Arena
Tina throws the spotlight on fresh Young Talent
Tina Arena is juggling several languages, a phone rapidly running out of charge and credit and an exit from a Melbourne cab as her voice bubbles down the phone.
Time, it seems, is always at a premium for the diminutive star with the big, big voice who this week returns to our screens as Young Talent Time judge, rather than as the “Tiny Tina” who entranced audiences in the original version of the show. Time, and timing. For Arena, who has been in the spotlight since the age of seven when she became a star on Young Talent Time, and parlayed that into a career now spanning more than 30 years, multiple hit songs, six Aria awards and more than eight million record sales, joining the reboot of the show that launched her was all about the timing.
“It just felt right,” she says, with her customary no-fuss frankness.
“And don’t think I haven’t been asked before – there have been many, many approaches and plans to revive the show in the past – but it just wasn’t the right time.
“As a singer I’m all about the timing, and the timing is right and the quality is right so it just made sense.
“Any time before would have been too early to revisit this show – not for me, but for viewers.
“But now I think with the talent and singing shows that are on at the moment, the interest is there.
“And this is a different genre again to those shows because it has a core cast and it’s just good family entertainment. Young Talent Time is an Australian product.
“It’s ours, it’s not a format that’s been adapted for here – and that makes it all the more valuable. “Australia is ready for it.” It’s that readiness that has seen Arena, who is based in Paris with her partner, French artist Vincent Mancini and their son Gabriel, six, return home for the show in what will be her longest stint in Australia since 2008.
They enjoyed Christmas in Melbourne with the family, and she and Gabriel will be here for six months, with Vincent dividing his time between Melbourne and Paris.
Arena will clock up the frequent flyer points between Melbourne, where her parents are loving time with their grandson, and Sydney for the show.
“I really didn’t have to think hard about it,” Arena says. “It completes a circle for me, and I believe lots of things in life go in circles.
“This isn’t the end; it just completes a circle for me and quite possibly will start a new one.”
Arena will take up mentoring and judging duties on the show but says she shies away from the word ‘judge’.
Her style is far more honest than tough love.
She was part of the judging panel of a French version of reality talent show Sing Off late last year, and laughs that she was seen as the “the nice judge”, because while she can be blunt, she has nothing on the French.
“The show featured a cappella groups which suited me down to the ground, and it really improved my French,” she laughs.
“The funny thing was I was seen as the really polite and nice judge, because I was playing it straight and honest, but the French are so much more direct.”
Arena isn’t into the idea of “judging” children – as she and fellow judge and mentor, US choreographer Chucky Klapow will do for weekly talent quest showcases on the show, but she is into honesty.
She’s eager to mentor YTT’S new core cast – and nurture as well as develop them.
“I think it’s important you be honest,” Arena says.
“Ten has been great as far as looking after these kids.
“They are loving Millsy ( YTT host Rob Mills), he’s great fun.
“They need to be nurtured and not patronised – and it’s a delicate balancing act.
“We were nurtured on YTT and it was a different time.
“Today these things are so much more public and the kids have to be better prepared to deal with public exposure.”
Arena can teach them plenty, aside from technique – including life in the spotlight, and the importance of always remembering the joy of performing.
“All I can remember of my first appearance when I was seven is ( being) excited,” she says.
“I don’t recall being nervous. I do recall having that buzz of performing.
“I still get it now. If I ever lose that feeling, I will stop doing it.”
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