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Interview: Toni Pearen
The singer and TV star tells all about her pop music career in the 1990s.
Interview from March 2021
Thrust back into the public eye thanks to her recent appearance on I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, Toni Pearen has once again endeared herself to TV viewers, just as she did when she joined soap E Street straight out of high school and in the 2000s as the host of Australia's Funniest Home Video Show. But when Chart Beats caught up with Toni recently, we had only one topic on our mind: her pop music career — a topic about which we had plenty of questions (many more of which are answered in the full-length interview)...
Although you got your first break via acting on E Street, was it always your plan to launch a music career as well?
In my mind, I always wanted to make music. I never envisioned myself as an actress, believe it or not. My passion was always music and stage, and I really wanted to release music. So when E Street came along, it was a present surprise, that’s for sure.
The first clue Australia got that you could also sing was on the Channel 10 promo featuring you belting out "This Is It". How did that come around?
They were aware I could sing. And you know how back in the day, those network launches at the beginning of the year were always such a spectacle. In our family, we would almost sit down in anticipation for what Channel 7, 9 and 10 would deliver as part of their launch. So when Channel 10 approached me to do that, I honestly felt like my dreams had become reality.
At that stage you were in a band called Connection. What can you tell me about that?
I grew up in a talent school so the members of the band — band being four vocalists — virtually grew up together. They were my friends and we worked together regularly, and that’s probably why I didn’t think about releasing “This Is It”, because I had an allegiance to them. We were all trying to do something together as a group, then Mushroom Records started to show interest in the band but in the end they decided they just wanted to sign me. Obviously that was pretty contentious.
Toni Pearen on Chart Beats
Seeing what Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan had done going from soaps to music, and then Melissa Tkautz from your own show, did that spur you on to think that it was possible for you to make that transition?
Absolutely. It didn’t come without criticism. It was hard. Look at the negativity Kylie had to endure. It was just clear that the universe was showing the path to me and I just had to walk down it and make the most of it. I remember going to watch Mel perform live and standing in the audience and thinking, “That’s what I want to do.” When Mushroom approached me, I had put all these people on a pedestal so much — from Michael Gudinski to Molly Meldrum — and they were talking to me about my music. It was quite extraordinary.
How did "In Your Room" come about? Was it a long process to find your debut single?
Because my character was so popular on E Street, that had a lot to do with the timing of releasing the single, and so Mushroom were very, very keen to get moving on finding material for me. "In Your Room" was initially a country song. Gary Ashley, who signed me to Mushroom, had found the song and some producers in Sydney to work on it. I remember him playing it for me and I went, “What?” and he was going, “No, I can see this as a pop song. Trust me.” And when somebody who has had that kind of success says "trust me", you trust them. And he was right. It all moved very fast from when I signed the contract to the release of the first single.
How did it feel when the single went top 10?
It was just a pinch me moment. I love hearing artists talk about the first time they heard a song of theirs on the radio. And it is just one of those completely surreal moments. You might be driving to go and pick up toilet paper — in your car like everyone else and it’s truly a once in a lifetime moment.
In the full interview, Toni talks about the debut single she turned down, the first video of "In Your Room" that never got released (and the outfits in the one that did!), why she had to fight to record "I Want You", the delay before "Walkaway Lover" and her album came out, the harsh way her time at Mushroom ended and how she almost became a country singer in the US. Read it here.