Australian Teen Star Goodrem Takes on America
By Christie Eliezer and Emmanuel LeGrand
SYDNEY (Billboard) – The past year has been extraordinary for 19-year-old Australian pop sensation Delta Goodrem (news). Now it is time to see if the rest of the world is ready for the latest sensation from Down Under.
The stats are impressive: In January, her Sony Music debut album, “Innocent Eyes,” which spawned five No. 1 singles, notched the longest stay at No. 1 for a domestic album on the Australian Record Industry Assn. (ARIA) charts.
At 29 weeks at No. 1, it surpassed Neil Diamond (news)’s 1973 live set “Hot August Night” for the overall second-longest tenure at the top spot by any artist. (Dire Straits’ 1985 set “Brothers in Arms” holds the record, with 35 weeks.)
Goodrem’s debut album has been certified for shipments of more than 1 million copies in her homeland, which has a population of 20 million, a feat topped only once before. Outside Australia, the title has sold another 1 million units.
The other Australian who has sold 1 million copies of one album in Australia was rock vocalist John Farnham (news) with “Whispering Jack” in 1986, according to Sony Music Entertainment Australia chairman/CEO Denis Handlin, who signed Goodrem when she was 16.
But along with the highs have come staggering lows. Last year, Goodrem was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of lymphoma; she completed a six-month round of treatment in December.
Although she is continuing with medical tests, Goodrem is now determined to resume her career, with a new focus on the international market.
Handlin is determined to see the artist get a clean bill of health first. Goodrem, however, has already set her priority list: going on tour to satisfy her huge following in Australia and establishing a presence in the United States.
“We’re still discussing the marketing, but essentially they’ve told me to continue just being myself and give it the best shot,” says Goodrem, who intends to base herself in the States for a time.
TENTATIVE U.S. PLANS
Goodrem is currently in Los Angeles, where she is writing new material with Glen Ballard, Billy Mann (news) and Guy Chambers, among others. The earliest Columbia will release her project in the United States is July, says New York-based Sony Music U.S./Sony Music International VP of A&R David Massey.
“Our plans are still related to her health,” Massey says. “We need her to be able to travel across the U.S. extensively and perform showcases and make sure she’s completely ready for it physically. Our first priority is her well being, but we’re very optimistic.”
Although still under discussion, “the most likely scenario,” Massey says, is that “Innocent Eyes” will be issued in the United States with one or two new tracks.
“In the next month, there will be the beginnings of her plan to work on her follow-up to ‘Innocent Eyes’ and possibly one or two of those songs could find its way onto the U.S. album.” But he says there is no plan to combine her first and next albums into a U.S. release: “That would lead to big import problems.”
The likely first single in the United States is “Born to Try,” which has become a signature tune for Goodrem. “It reminds me of an uplifting song like Des’ree’s ‘You Gotta Be,”‘ Massey says. “It’s all about the positive and uplifting message, but she’s still very realistic.”
Massey feels Goodrem can fill a void in the U.S. market for a female artist with the vocal prowess of a Celine Dion (news) but the songwriting feel of a Tori Amos (news) or Dido.
“Her appeal skews from 12- to 50-year-old women,” he says. “She’s like an Alicia Keys (news) in that she’s a singer/songwriter who has a broad appeal and occupies a unique space.” To that end, he feels that TV appearances and live performances are as crucial as radio to breaking her in the United States.
Goodrem, who wrote her first tune at age 12, says she uses songwriting to come to terms with her meteoric success. She also is listening to such veteran songwriters as Carole King (news) and Van Morrison (news) plus contemporary ones like Darren Hayes (news) (Savage Garden) to sharpen her skills. “There are some positive new songs, and some angry ones,” she says with a laugh.
“She has had outstanding success and exceptional challenges to deal with for such a young person,” Massey says.
In Australia, Goodrem blitzed last October’s ARIA music awards with seven wins (and two additional viewers choice awards), and her “Delta” replaced the Eagles’ “Hell Freezes Over” to become the highest-selling music DVD here with sales of 165,000 units (11-times platinum).
Outside Australia, Sony says Goodrem has shipped double-platinum so far in the U.K. (passing the 600,000-units mark). The album was released in mid-2003 in the U.K.
Now she’s taking on the rest of Europe. “Innocent Eyes” is in the top 20 in Germany, and she is breaking in Scandinavia, with France targeted to follow. “This is despite her inability to do any promotional work there,” Massey says.