Jessica Mauboy has come far since being runner-up on Australian Idol in 2006. She has won ARIA Awards and taken on acting roles from the film Bran Nue Dae to television series The Laundry. The singer, 25, is currently recording a new album and was this week named an ambassador for Target women’s clothing. She chats to me about her writing process, aspirations of working with Prince and how her dream guy, Themeli Magripilis, keeps her grounded.
You’re recording your next studio album. What is the writing process for you?
I like to be locked in a studio, whether it be with creating the melody and sitting at the piano or whether it be writing the lyrics.
Has writing always come naturally to you?
At the age of 16, I started writing. Before that, it wasn’t really flowing. It was something that I was very embarrassed about and I kept it to myself. I started to really embrace and share my thoughts in the studio, and it really helped me to not be afraid of whether [my lyrics] sounded silly or not. It was just getting over the fact that anything could be turned into something amazing if you just allowed it to be. Writing is definitely so important to me. I think as a career it has really supported me in terms of living. I really love writing.
Do you prefer the writing or the performing side?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I must say they’re equally both amazing. I find, when I’m on stage, I’m slightly a cheekier performer, so I like to have a bit of wit about my performance and have a bit of a joke and have a bit of a play and invite the crowd to have a dance and embrace their movements.
Congratulations on your ambassador role with Target. Do you feel as if your style has evolved over the years?
Oh, hugely. A massive amount has changed in terms of [my] style. I’ve really taken style on with the journey of my music … When I’m creating music, I like to collaborate with style, so if I’m singing an upbeat song, I like a bit of texture or some kind of colour or sparkle to it. Then, when I’m singing something that’s quite mellow, I like to wear something quite structured that doesn’t move too much. So I like to wear something that really represents the music.
You must get asked to represent so many brands. How do you choose what you align yourself with?
Obviously, with Target, growing up in Darwin, it was pretty much the hangout spot. My girlfriends would be like, “I’m heading out to Target. Are you girls going to come?” And then, next minute I’m trying on jeans and a basic top. So I guess, to be the face of something that’s really community oriented, that means a lot to me, and growing up with the brand, I feel very close with it. It feels like a family.
When you were younger and living in Darwin, did you ever envisage your life to be the way it is today?
No, I never really saw it turning out this way. I think I always dreamt. I always saw a stage, but never did I expect to go obviously this far. I always thought I was going to be a community worker and be really involved with youth, which I am, in fact, now with the music. [Music] allows me to still be able to get out there and do a lot of community service and work with kids and do music workshops and stuff like that.
During your career, what has been your biggest pinch-me moment?
Meeting Mariah [Carey]. She is someone that I look up to very dearly as a vocalist and I’ve always related to her music, her sound … [She is] 46 and still hitting her high notes and producing and writing. I think her credibility in writing is definitely somewhere I want to be as a long-term career path.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
My dream collaboration would definitely be Prince. He has a one of those sounds you can pick it’s him. It’s the bass, it’s that high-pitch vocal that he does, as well as his funk beat.
What’s the best part about your job?
I think the best part is being able to create something from scratch, from raw vocals to then creating rhythm and then creating melody. I love the process of creating music.
What’s the worst part?
I think travelling on my own. Sometimes the travel does get lonely when you have to do long trips.
How do you juggle a long-term relationship with all your work?
I’ve been with my boyfriend for seven years, so we’ve done the long-distance thing. It’s important to make time. I guess honesty comes down to it all, really. You go away and realise that person has so much patience and respect for what you do and you want to give that back the same way. So, treating someone the way you would like to be treated is definitely the mantra for me. He is my dream guy. He puts up with a lot!
He’s a lucky man!
Yeah. He is a great guy and obviously someone who has come from the same background as me. We grew up in the same town and we understand each other culturally and personally. The kind of job that I do, I’m always flying around, so it’s always bringing different personalities out of me. He knows how to kind of go, “OK, calm down. Where is Jessica?” I think that’s one of the things I really love. He really does bring me back to earth and makes me feel really comfortable about myself, no matter what I’m wearing or what I look like, and he makes me work harder.
What would be your advice to young girls starting out in music?
For me, to be honest, I always knew that I wanted to sing, and it was something that as an 11-year-old I was already performing and knew exactly what I wanted to do, but yet [I] didn’t know the business side of it, didn’t know how to kind of get in there, so it’s about getting out there.
Australian Idol was a huge stepping stone. Do you think you would be where you are today without it?
Idol was definitely a huge show, and I wouldn’t have done it. Thank goodness for my parents, who saw the passion in me to sing and almost forced me to [audition]. I think without it, it wouldn’t have happened that quickly. So thank goodness for Idol for teaching me the ropes and educating me really about music and the business side of it.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Singing and doing a show in Madison Square Garden.
WE WENT TO Vine Restaurant, Double Bay.
WE ATE oysters; sashimi of tuna; smoked duck break with fioe gras, chestnut, mandarin & hazelnut; Fagotelli with pumpkin, tallegio, mushroom, asparagus and yarrow.
WE DRANK Laurent Perrier Champagne.
JESS WORE Target dress and jacket.
I WORE a Bec & Bridge dress