Jessica Mauboy: 'Idol'
cultural ambassador

Those who tuned into Indonesian Idol last night were introduced to the young and talented Australian singing sensation that is Jessica Mauboy.

An Idol graduate herself, the 18-year-old appeared comfortable and confident on stage -- just as she had throughout the Australian Idol 2006 series, in which she was crowned runner-up.

Mauboy became a household name in Australia after appearing on the TV show and releasing an album, The Journey, which hit shelves in February last year and was soon after certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association.

Mauboy's appearance on Friday's Indonesian Idol Spectacular Show was part of a three-day tour of the country. She came to the country as part of the IN2OZ: Creative Australia program, a series of Australian cultural events being held in Indonesia throughout 2008.

"I love Indonesia. I love the people and the food," she said over a bowl of bakso (meatball soup) Thursday in Senayan, South Jakarta.

"I feel so lucky to be here on this trip," she said. She was invited by the Australian government to visit its neighboring nation as a "living example of the strong cultural and people-to-people ties between Australia and Indonesia".

Mauboy was born in Darwin, the Northern Territory, Australia, to an Indonesian father and Indigenous Australian mother. The fourth of five children -- all girls -- said she had fond memories of Indonesia from a very young age, as her father, Ferdy, regularly took the family to visit relatives in Kefamenanu, West Timor.

"I love the people there. Life is so slowed down; it's not a frantic pace like it is in, say, Sydney," she said.

"I said to my dad on the plane coming here 'I can't believe I'm going back to Indonesia'. It's so exciting to be here," Mauboy said. It has been two years since her last trip to the country.

It is her father she has to thank for putting her on the Idol path that led her back to perform in her "second homeland".

Borrowing money from a friend to pay for two return airfares, Mauboy's father was able to send her, accompanied by her mother Theresa, to the nearest Australian Idol 2006 audition location -- Alice Springs. The desert town located in the center of Australia became the setting for the first Idol auditions to be held outdoors.

Battling sticky flies and hot desert winds during her rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing", Mauboy managed to make it through to the top 124 contestants. She then went to Sydney to fight her way through elimination heats and semifinals to reach the final group of 12.

Mauboy, 17 at the time, won the hearts of many viewers and was a firm favorite to win the grand final, which was held at the world-famous Sydney Opera House. She came second to winner Damien Leith, but walked away with a Sony BMG record deal and a smile on her face.

"Being part of the whole Idol experience was amazing. I think it helped me develop; it made me more mature," she said. The hectic Australian Idol performances and tour schedule meant Mauboy had to finish her year 11 high school studies through correspondence.

Since her Australian Idol experience, Mauboy has performed with Young Divas -- a quartet made up of past female Idol finalists, who released an album titled New Attitude in November 2007. She has also worked with the Australian government's health and indigenous affairs departments on their youth development programs and is currently the face of a nationwide anti-smoking campaign.

Mauboy's three-day IN2OZ tour of Indonesia first stopped in Surabaya on Wednesday, where she sang the Australian national anthem to open the inaugural Western Australia-East Java Friendship Football Cup at Deltras Stadium in East Java.

She then traveled to Jakarta on Thursday to perform at Plaza Semanggi in the afternoon and attended a special event to celebrate her visit at Australian Ambassador Bill Farmer's house in the evening.

"Jessica's visit is a great opportunity to celebrate the friendship between our countries and we are delighted to welcome Jessica to her second homeland," Farmer said upon her arrival to the country.

On Friday night's Idol show, Mauboy wowed the audience with a swing version of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" and sang the popular Indonesian hit "Sempurna" (Perfect), with past Indonesian Idol stars Mike, Judika and Lucky.

"I loved singing with the boys, they are all so talented," Mauboy said.

"I'd like to do more duets with Indonesian singers. I'd love to do a duet with Delon. I really like Krisdayanti too. Even just to meet her would be great."

Mauboy is scheduled to fly home to Australia today to prepare for a week-long recording session in Sydney for her upcoming solo album. She said her first single would be released in August, with the album launch planned for September.

"There will be around 14 or 15 songs on the album, eight of which I wrote myself."

Mauboy also hinted at a possible return to Indonesia in August to grace the Balai Sarbini stage once more as the Indonesian Idol 2008 finale nears.

"I would love to come back," she said.

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