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Jessica Mauboy: A Q&A With Australia's Eurovision Golden Girl

Jessica Mauboy

Born in Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, Mauboy is of aboriginal descent and grew up with four sisters in what has often been described as the noisiest house on the block — singing has always been her “best friend.” She rose to notoriety after finishing as the runner-up on the fourth season of Australian Idol. Two weeks later Sony gave her a record deal, and her star has been on the rise ever since. When Eurovision invited Australia, a loyal devotee from afar, to join the song contest in 2014, Mauboy was chosen as the nation’s delegate singer. In 2018 she made an unprecedented return to the Eurovision stage with the song “We Got Love” to vie for another win. She shares her thoughts on diversity in Australia, and the country’s love of the kitschy contest.

What’s the deal with Australia’s Eurovision obsession? 
In addition to having a very robust music scene domestically, Australia has often been the first country — ironic given the distance — for many acts building an international career. ABBA, for example, broke in Australia very early in their international journey. Also, SBS, an Australian network, has been broadcasting Eurovision since 1983 — it’s been a very long love affair. As a child, my dad and I would get up so early to catch the competition live — it’s so much more than a song contest, it’s like the World Cup of singing, bringing countries and diverse people together.

A lot of Eurovision participants, like ABBA and Celine Dion, have become gay icons over the years — what’s your relationship to the LGBTQ community in Australia?
I am very proud that my country is making huge strides towards equality and diversity — I live in the heart of Sydney’s gay community, and it was such an incredible and joyous day on the streets when marriage equality was passed. Personally, two of my favorite performances were at the Sydney Mardi Gras — it’s such an extraordinary and empowering event, and I feel very privileged to be welcomed and invited into the LGBTQ community in Australia. My favorite act at Mardi Gras are the Sistagirls, trans dancers from the Tiwi Islands — I always cheer the loudest for them.

What would you say are the key differences between Americans and Australians? 
Americans have this amazing confidence — we use this word “larrikin” (playfully boisterous, loud, extra-friendly). Australians are more humble by nature. American artists are all about high-end glamour; here, our art is more conversational. Storytelling is the foundation of aboriginal culture.

Where should one travel in Australia to understand its beating heart? 
You’ll never see scenery as stunning as the ancient, soul-stirring landscapes of rural Australia. In fact, a quarter of the country — like the Kakadu National Park — is managed by Aboriginal land trusts. The Aboriginal rangers that manage and protect these beautiful and vast pieces of land are the nation’s unsung heroes. Add the Northern Territory to your to-do list — it feels like the end of the earth in the best way imaginable. Eat tropical fruit from the Mindil Beach markets and watch the sunset, then stick around after dark — if you haven’t been to the Northern Territory you haven’t really seen the stars.

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