The winners list of the Toyota Star Maker reads a bit like the who's who of Australian country music. Lee Kernaghan, Gina Jeffreys, Travis Collins, Beccy Cole, Lyn Bowtell, James Blundell, Sam McClymont, Kirsty Lee Akers, Kaylee Bell and of course, Keith Urban. The 2017 Grand Final takes place this Sunday (Jan 22) and you start to think to yourself, who will be the Star Maker Winner for the next 12 months.
Take a look at the Top Ten:
It's only been in the past two years singer-songwriter Andrew Swift began his love affair with alt-country and Americana music. Since the year 2000, he performed in pop rock band, Race The Fray, which he’d founded with a group of high school mates. They released three EPs, and met with some success, touring the east coast and gaining radio exposure. However, his desire for a solo career ensured his move from backing vocalist to front of stage. Dissatisfied with his first EP, he recorded his debut album, The Way We Were Raised in El Paso, Texas with producer Jim Ward. Then in 2015, while filling in as co-host for Casey Radio’s broadcast from the Tamworth Country Music Festival, Andrew realised his true musical home was in country. He then released Sound The Alarm, which appeared in the Australian country radio charts at #20, reaching #4 on 98.9FMs Australian Top 20 songs. He was a semi-finalist in the 2016 TSA Awards with Hand in Hand. He’s performed with Shane Nicholson, Adam Eckersley Band, Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes, Harmony James and Gretta Ziller in recent times.
Aged just 18, Angus Gill is somewhat of a veteran in the performance and songwriting stakes. In 2014 he co-wrote the Music Count Us In song with Harry Angus (Cat Empire) and John Foreman, sung by more than half a million school students simultaneously in October that year. He was also invited to perform alongside Casey Donovan and Sam Moran at the launch event in Darling Harbour. Angus takes inspiration from Americana legend and multiple Grammy award-winner Steve Earle, and is a two-time graduate of the CMAA Academy of Country Music. He’s toured and co-written with some of Australia’s finest musicians and singer-songwriters. Angus won a TSA award in 2013 for his song, Names Upon The Wall, also winning the Australian Children’s Music Foundation National Songwriting Competition for the same song in 2011. For the past five years he’s presented a country music radio show on 103.9 2WAY FM. He’s now running his own production company called Hot Plate Studios, specialising in delivering professional quality studio recordings on an independent budget. Veteran entertainer Carter Edwards is one of his biggest fans, saying Angus possesses “a star quality to potentially succeed in so many different aspects of show business.”
Born and raised on country music in the far western outskirts of Melbourne, Victoria, Brook spent his early years immersed in his father’s record collection. He cut his teeth on the sounds of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams Sr, Charley Pride, Jerry Lee Lewis, and his favourite, Buddy Holly. Brook learnt piano at school and was a soloist in the school choir, eventually picking up a guitar in Year 12. This life-changing event marked the beginning of a love and obsession that continues to this day. He practised relentlessly and was soon performing in local bands. In 2008, he formed The Brook Chivell Band with some of Melbourne’s hottest musicians. In 2011 they released an album, with Brook writing or co-writing the majority of songs. Five singles were released (Drive On, Thrills ‘N’ Spills, Let’s Stay In, Thank You, and Only A Man), all of which made the Top 10 on the Kix/Hot Country chart. Brook has toured extensively over the past four years, both with the band and as a solo performer, and continues to build his fan base. Brook has recently completed writing for a new album.
Cassidy Rae Gaiter
Flagstaff Hill, SA
Adelaide country singer Cassidy Rae Gaiter has been surrounded by music of all types but her first love has always been country music. “My earliest memories were mum paying Shania Twain’s Come On Over album.” Since the tender age of 5 years old she has trained and performed as a vocal artist, graduating in March 2016 with a Bachelor of Music (Musical Theatre) from the prestigious Australian Institute of Music in Sydney, where she fine tuned her vocal talents and live performance skills. Cassidy adds “These days my song writing influences are definitely far and wide but Kelsea Ballerini is someone I really look up to at the moment because even at such a young age her song writing connects to such a vast range of people and ages.” Cassidy’s voice has opened up many exciting doors; most recently invited performances across the United States and lead roles in several musicals while based in Sydney. In July 2016, Cassidy took part in the The DAG Sheep Station Singer Songwriter Retreat in Nundle, NSW. Having recently returned from a song writing trip to Nashville and meeting Dan Hodges who will produce her debut EP in 2017, Gaiter fell in love with the people and the abundance of live music. “I just loved going to the song writer rounds night after night, it was amazing to soak it all up.”
Balgal Beach, QLD
Having competed in country music talent quests since the age of 11, Jade continues to put 100 per cent into each performance on stage. Her commitment to country was fuelled in 2011 by her success at the 15th Annual World Championships of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, where she outshone almost 4000 contestants to bring home a string of awards including second in songwriting for her own composition Make Up Your Mind. This international recognition reaffirmed her direction. The title track from her debut album, Leather & Les Paul, set Jade off on quite a trajectory in 2016, with the single debuting at #25 on the Australian airplay charts, then leaping 13 spots in a week to peak at #12. Jade has become a regular at the Tamworth Country Music Festival and has also represented her home North Queensland in overseas tours, including playing for the troops in Afghanistan in 2014 and Israel in 2016, and was the first Australian to perform in China’s Foshan Autumn Colour Festival to audiences of more than two million people in 2015.
Sippy Downs, QLD
It’s music, not blood, that flows through Liam Kennedy-Clark’s veins. Originally from New Zealand, Liam now calls Australia home, basing himself on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. A talented multi-instrumentalist and gifted singer-songwriter, he was born and raised on the music of Vince Gill, Albert Lee, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and David Gilmore. Music was a natural path for him to follow. When he discovered Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, there was no turning back. Liam combines the best elements of a traditional country music sound with the contemporary country rock styling that have made the genre one of the most successful in North America. Unlike many of his peers who specialise in a couple of instruments, Liam is becoming a master of multi-skilling, and is now proficient with acoustic and electric guitar, upright and electric bass, piano and organ, drums, harmonica, trumpet, mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, dobro and piano accordion. Not content with playing music though, by the age of 18 Liam released a self-produced album of original songs. He’s won a swag of accolades in talent competitions over the years, and was a top 10 finalist in last year’s Toyota Star Maker.
From Melbourne’s south-east, Meg Doherty has had quite a musical journey to date, both as a solo performer and in the band, Ginja Roe. This talented performer takes inspiration from acts such as The Waifs, Missy Higgins, Joni Mitchell, Ryan Adams and Miranda Lambert, among others. With an original blend of new pop material and a burst of country-folk flavour, strung together with superlative guitar work, Meg Doherty stands and delivers. She learnt classical guitar from the age of nine and within a year was performing in school concerts. By 13, Meg added drums to her skillset. In 2004 she joined Ginja Roe and two years later independently produced the band’s first eight-track album, Homemade. Legendary blues and rock icon Bob Spencer (Skyhooks/Angels) joined Ginja Roe on the road in early 2006 and added a soulful electric sound to the mix. Then came their debut album, Polished. The band gigged relentlessly, winning much acclaim and a legion of fans. For the past three years Meg has enjoyed a solo career. Her solo debut album was produced by Ben Franz of The Waifs. Released in June 2016, the first single, with accompanying clip, is Trainwreck.
Megan Sidwell’s heart lies somewhere between rock and country pop. Her musical identity has been shaped over the years by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Pat Benatar, Hayley Williams and Dave Grohl, while the gentler side of her craft pays homage to pop sensations Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Born in Tauranga, New Zealand, Megan graduated with a Bachelor of Music from the University of Auckland in 2014. Her debut five-track EP, Forever on a Sunday, was released in October 2013. Now based in Melbourne, Megan released a music video, Forever on a Sunday, a single, Never Saw It Coming and formed a new band in 2015. The next year they won the Coca-Cola Battle of the Bands in Tamworth and topped off their Tamworth debut with a main-stage appearance in Toyota Park. The year just continued to be one of highlights aplenty, with the release of her single, Piece of Me, and appearing in the Emerging Talent Showcase in the Muster Club at the 2016 Gympie Music Muster. Megan is in the process of recording new material.
A graduate of the CMAA Academy of Country Music in 2014, Michelle has gone from strength to strength focusing on a fulltime career in music, gigging the length and breadth of the country. Her journey took a welcome turn when she walked through the doors of Golden Guitar winner Matt Fell’s Love Hz Studios in Sydney to record her debut EP, Colour Me Happy. The title track debuted in the Country Tracks chart at #32. In 2015 Michelle completed 125 solo gigs travelling to audiences throughout Townsville, Charters Towers, the Whitsundays, Mackay and Gladstone regions. That same year she was a Rising Star finalist in the Southern Stars Australian Independent Country Music Awards in Mildura. She followed that up with a finalist berth in New Talent for the ICMA Awards in 2016. Michelle and fellow Townsville songwriter Tammy Moxon joined forces to present twice the concert on a NSW-Queensland tour in June and July 2016. A highlight of the past year was getting the opportunity to perform the national anthem at Suncorp Stadium for the NRL Indigenous All Stars game alongside Jessica Mauboy and the students of the Aboriginal Centre of the Performing Arts.
Sydney-born country music singer Rachael Fahim has been working steadily to win her way into the hearts of audience and industry one gig at a time. Growing up on the outskirts of Sydney she fell in love with country music and began entering talent quests, rapidly gaining the name of “the country girl from the city”, which she didn’t mind one little bit. During school Rachael, like many young women, was bullied and turned to songwriting, finding an outlet in story-songs with catchy riffs, and fun, quirky thoughts. She’s so tiny in stature, once she starts singing many often wonder where that big powerful voice comes from. Rachael has toured Australia’s east coast and performed at some of the biggest festivals in the country. She released her debut single, Say It, which shot to #1 on the iTunes charts and was in the Top 30 on CMC for several weeks. At the 2014 MO Awards, she won the Johnny O’Keefe Encouragement Award. Rachael has performed at the Sydney Country Music Festival, North Queensland Freedom Festival and supported Daryl Braithwaite on several shows of his 2015 tour. She was a top 10 finalist in 2015 Toyota Star Maker.
Now that you've had a look and a listen to the Top Ten Finalist, who do you think will be crowned 2017 Toyota Star Maker Winner?
Listen to Crossy during Breakfast for all the Poll results and the latest from Tamworth.