I work at a radio station. It plays lots of pop music. I have the radio station set as my alarm to wake me up daily. It sounded at 8am on Sunday. A pop song was playing. I thought it was perhaps Jessie J or a similarly sassy voice. Turns out it’s actually this eighteen year old Melbourne girl named Bonnie Anderson.
Where did she come from? Where did she go? (Cotton Eyed Joe etc.) She was actually the winner of the very first season of Australia’s Got Talent, ‘beating out’ gum leaf player Herb Patten. What a guy. I wonder where he is now. Probably dead, but you know.
Aged just twelve when she ‘took out’ the competition, she was well and truly not ready for the music world and being ambitious from her earliest days, decided to turn down a deal with Sony Music that probably would have fast-tracked a couple of hype-driven singles, instead opting to keep performing, learning instruments and honing her craft. Reflecting on her decision to not sign to Sony initially, the self-confessed tomboy is glad she didn’t get stuck in the stigma many reality TV contestants face and give the country six years to forget about her ties to the show.
“Working hard for where I am today was what I wanted to do, a long career in music is what I want and what I’ve always dreamed of, and Australia’s Got Talent was an amazing experience for me, but I wanted to take that time out, earn my stripes, earn respect in the industry and to my audience, learn guitar, learn piano, learn to write songs and perform. Performing was so important for me – to be able to perform in front of two people or a thousand people, that was just what I wanted to do, get in there and work really hard for it.”
The year after she won the show, Bonnie’s parents bought her a guitar, which she immediately started learning to play and using her new skills to begin writing the magnum opus that was Black Cat, the first song she ever wrote.
“It’s written on a white piece of A4 paper and it’s in black texta and it’s AWFUL writing! It’s a shocker of a song. I’ve improved a lot and I’ve learnt so much over the years with writing especially and just growing older, experiencing different things, that’s been the main thing for me. Being thirteen, I wasn’t really writing songs about anything exciting. “
For around three years, Bonnie’s been working alongside Sony’s in-house production team DNA Songs, Anthony Egizii and David Musumeci, who’ve been ‘the brains’ behind some of Australia’s most memorable pop creations from Timomatic, Reece Mastin, Samantha Jade and Jessica Mauboy, the best Australian pop song of the year – Nathaniel Willemse‘s You - as well as being picked up overseas to write UK girlband The Saturdays’ Not Giving Up. It was probably fitting that she wrote her first single, Raise The Bar, with the same team that taught her how to ‘pen’ a song in the first place.
“It feels very special to release my first song with those guys because I love them. This process was one of those moments where we were in the studio and we were thinking of things and I had some ideas in my head and just little messages that I wanted to get out in the song and basically it happened so quickly, it was one of those days where it just happened and we were all jumping up and down thinking ‘woo, this is it!'”
Bonnie sort of references her lyrical inspiration early on in the single. ‘Mama taught me good, to do all I should’ she sings, telling me that she thinks everyone should try and better themselves and never settle for second best. I had to get on her side by saying that guys suck and always make girls settle for their second best.
“My Mum always told me to never doubt myself and always go for my goals, and that’s my little thing in there, saying ‘never settle for second best’. Guys too, never settle for second best! It’s my little thing, saying to the guys, you’ve gotta raise the bar.”
Having been so focused on her recording, writing and performance opportunities for so long now, I wondered where school fit into this seemingly never-ending schedule of call-ups. “I finished about three years ago. A little bit early,” Bonnie tells me, ending her schooling at the conclusion of Year 10, a crossroads between deciding whether to enter the ‘real world’ or stay in the shelter of schoolyard life for another two years.
“I think it was a good time for me to finish, I feel like I was ready to go more heavily into my music. It was a challenge, trying to do music and be in school because I’d been performing that whole time and travelling everywhere, so I think it was an easy decision.”
Music was always the number one focus earlier on in high school. “I’m the sort of person that would be in Maths writing songs and I’d get trouble. I actually remember a day when I was writing a song in Maths and my teacher came up to me. I think it was important for me to be in school at twelve though, and that’s what I wanted to do, be in school and do music and learn all of that stuff.”
Maths class turned into a Sydney show with Kate Ceberano, English was replaced with the warm-up gig for Jimmy Barnes, Science was thrown out for a spot on stage before Diesel, and now, the HSC becomes a national tour with UK hat enthusiast Olly Murs. Doing an adorable and shockingly accurate impression of Murs saying “good morning!” in his cheeky British accent, Bonnie tells me they’re both getting along well already. “He’s so much fun and such a humble guy and it’s really cool to be on the road with him.”
Performing her single to a group of people her own age, instead of middle aged bogans, is a nice change of scene for Bonnie and it genuinely seems like performing is her favourite thing to do in the world. “Last night I actually saw some people in the audience singing my song and it’s just such an amazing feeling that people know my song! Performing to me is just, the best. I feel like I’m at home when I’m on stage so getting back into performing more, which is what I’ve done for the last six years, I really love.”
The younger fans have also helped her in times of need, a wardrobe malfunction over the weekend in Sydney being quickly ‘rectified’ by a group in the front. “The girls in the front row were amazing, they helped me out and made sure I zipped that top back up!” Apparently Olly made sure her outfit for the second show was slightly more ‘stage friendly’. What a chap.
After the Olly tour, which she’s carefully planning some radio station visits and other promotional thingos around, she’s going to chill out for Christmas and New Year with her family in Melbourne before she flies to Los Angeles BABAY to work with quite big pop people, which she’s already done before thanks to what Sony do with their development artists. “Last time I got to work with Toby Gadd, Ryan Kennedy who was working with Rihanna at the time, and so many different guys. It was a three week thing and every day I was writing and meeting different people.” She’s got no idea who she’s working with this time but one can hope it’s Dr Luke and Timbaland.
She’ll then pop back to Australia for in-stores, “which I’m excited for because I can get to know my audience and interact with them a lot more, then another single, I’m writing a lot and hopefully an album is in the making. It’s exciting!”
It sure is.