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Successful Country Music Artists Who Competed On Australian Idol

5 July 2022 | 3:07 pm | Mallory Arbour

The iconic singing competition series, Australian Idol returns in 2023

Hayley Jensen

Hayley Jensen (Image: Supplied)

First broadcast in 2003 and televised on Network Ten for all seven seasons, Australian Idol is returning in 2023 on Channel 7 and 7plus. The iconic singing competition series, which aired until 2009, made Guy Sebastian, Jessica Mauboy and Casey Donovan household names.

With applications now open at an official casting site, with hopefuls 'from anywhere in Australia' aged between 15 and 28 invited to showcase their talents, we thought we’d celebrate its return and take a trip down memory name to the original, the OG, as it were, as we take a look back at the successful country music artists who competed on Australian Idol.


Casey Barnes

Casey Barnes competed on the seventh and final season of Australian Idol in 2009. He auditioned with James Taylor’s Fire and Rain. Barnes advanced into the top 12 through the judges pick after the Wild Card round. He failed to impress with his cover of I’m Not Over by Carolina Liar and was eliminated during Rock Night.

He hasn’t let that stop him though. The year after Idol, he released an EP titled Red Lion Motel and toured the USA. His 2014 EP Flesh & Bone followed before he released his third studio album (his first post-Idol), Live As One in 2016. The album featured the singles Live As One and Just Like Magic and three songs featuring his wife, Michelle Barnes. 

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Following his first Golden Guitar nomination for ‘Best New Talent’, Barnes released The Good Life in 2018, which debuted at #1 on the iTunes Country Album Chart, peaking at #2 on the ARIA Australian Country Album Chart. Albums Town Of A Million Dreams (2020) and Light It Up (2022) followed. With over 36 million combined streams and seven consecutive #1 hits on the CountryTown Hot 50, Barnes is one of the most in-demand artists in country music today.

Barnes has opened for acts like Bryan Adams, Diesel, Mariah Carey, Lady A to name a few and performed at major events including Savannah In The Round, CMC Rocks, Tamworth Country Music Festival and BluesFest as well as multiple USA stadium outings in Kansas City and South Dakota, topped off by performances at the Professional Bull Riding World Finals in Las Vegas.

Wesley Dean

Wesley Dean, then under the name Wes Carr, auditioned for the sixth season of Australian Idol. After receiving three touchdowns, a catchphrase created by judge Mark Holden, and only placing once in the bottom two (after performing When You Were Young by The Killers and What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong for American Songs Week), he was crowned the winner in 2008 with fellow country artist, Luke Dickens becoming the runner-up.

Following Idol, Dean released his winner and debut single, You, which peaked at #1 on the ARIA Singles Chart. The album, The Way The World Looks, followed, which debuted at #2 on the ARIA Album Chart and was certified gold. Feels Like Woah, Fearless and Love Is An Animal were released as the album’s second, third and fourth singles, respectively.

Inspired to blur the lines between roots-rock, soul, and folk with his solo career, he went to Nashville not long after winning Idol in search of like-minded collaborators. In 2012, he released an EP titled Blood & Bone under the pseudonym Buffalo, which was later changed to Buffalo Tales for the release of the debut album Roadtrip Confessions. That same year, he married actress Charlotte Gregg. The couple welcomed their first child the following year.

In 2016, Dean joined Catherine Britt on the single, F U Cancer, alongside Kasey Chambers, Beccy Cole, Lyn Bowtell, Josh Pyke and Wendy Matthews, which was nominated for ‘Vocal Collaboration of the Year’ at the 2017 Golden Guitar Awards.

Dean released his album, Australiana in 2018, which covers songs performed by Australian artists. His latest album, unknown, was released in April 2022. With its mix of authentic Americana and modern-day roots music, the album marked the rebirth of an artist who's scaled the long ladder of success, enjoyed the view from the top, and taken a much-needed breather... only to rededicate himself to the climb all over again.

His new single, Gaslighter, from unknown, recently hit the Countrytown Hot 50 Country Airplay Chart. It follows Hello, I Love You, Goodbye, Pages, Eleven One, Never Thought Of You, which hit the Countrytown Hot 50 Chart back in December, and a string of others in between.

Hayley Jensen

Hayley Jensen first auditioned for Australian Idol in Canberra and later Sydney in 2004. She impressed audiences with covers from Anastacia, Killing Heidi, Marvin Gaye, The Beatles, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra, but was ultimately eliminated during Big Band Week.

After placing fourth on Idol, she formed her own record label (White Dove Music), released a solo album titled Note To Self and released a number of singles while touring the country. Following her work with alternative pop/rock band Seasons (who later became Silver Cities), Jensen appeared on The Voice Australia in 2014, where she was described as ‘the whole package’ by coach Kylie Minogue.

2016 saw Jensen return to country music with her single The One. She was nominated as a Toyota Star Maker Finalist and released two further singles, followed by the EP Past Tense & Present Peace in 2017, which became her first #1 iTunes Country Chart. In 2018, she was a CMC Award finalist for ‘New Artist of the Year’ and released her album Turning Up The Dial.

Following touring Australia, the UK and Canada, in early 2020 she joined Beccy Cole for a duet of Sarah McLachlan’s Angels, the song which got her to the top 12 on Australian Idol. In 2021, Jensen released her third album, Breakin’ Hearts, which peaked at #1 on the ARIA Country Albums Chart and #25 on the ARIA Top 50 Albums Chart, and features the hit singles Breakin’ Hearts, Fireworks, Just Gonna Party, Karma, Better Than That and Shake My Bones.

Recently, the 2022 Golden Guitar finalist for ‘Female Artist of the Year’ also teamed up with Canadian country trio, Petric on Flirtin’ and Dan Davidson on Really Shouldn’t Drink Around You (from his 2022 EP 6 Songs To Midnight). Both hit the Countrytown Hot 50 Chart with Flirtin’ reaching #23 and Really Shouldn’t Drink Around You peaking at #28.

James Johnston

James Johnston competed on season seven of Australia Idol alongside Barnes. He placed third, after auditioning with John Mayer’s Your Body Is A Wonderland, and later singing songs by artists like Pink, Fall Out Boy, Rob Thomas, Huey Lewis, The Fray and Kings Of Leon, stating his style of music was acoustic rock. Following Idol, he released the pop-driven single, Rollercoaster. After playing in various bands and appearing on The X Factor in 2014, he went to Nashville, Tennessee which reignited his love of country music, of which he grew up listening to.

Having written 300-400 songs country songs between Australia and Nashville, Johnston knew it was finally time to get music out there. He released his debut country single, Raised Like That, in 2021. The song (which tells the story of community, integrity, and a celebration to a way of life of people who grew up in a small close nit community), peaked at #1 on the Countrytown Hot 50 Country Airplay Chart, dethroning the juggernaut: Morgan Evan’s Love Is Real. Raised Like That also became the fastest single by an Australian based country artist to hit 1 million streams.

His follow up single, Small Town, was released later that year. It also reached #1 and held the spot for 10 weeks. The slower Anything Like Me was released in 2022, before he dropped Country Boys which currently sits at #1 on the Countrytown Hot 50 Chart. Later this month, he will release his first duet, Same Songs, featuring Kaylee Bell as he continues work on his debut album. Johnston’s 2022 schedule is also packed with festivals including NQ’s Rock’n Country Music Festival, Gympie Music Muster, Savannah in the Round, and CMC Rocks, to name a few.

Shannon Noll

Shannon Noll was runner-up on the first season of Australian Idol in 2003. During his audition, his rendition of Southern SonsHold Me In Your Arms impressed all three judges and saw him advanced through to the top twelve. Noll only found himself once in the bottom three during the competition and eventually progressed through to the grand final with Guy Sebastian, following contestant Cosima De Vito's withdrawal from the competition.

Shortly after Idol, Noll released his debut album, That’s What I’m Talking About, which debuted at #1 on the ARIA Albums Chart. Containing a mixture of pop, rock and country, the album spawned the certified platinum singles Drive, Learn To Fly, and his Moving Pictures cover What About Me? – which he sung on Idol during Australian #1s week.

His 2005 second album, Lift, also debuted at #1 on the ARIA Albums Chart, with all four singles from the album reaching the Top 10 on the ARIA single chart. The albums Turn It Up (2007), A Million Suns (2011), Unbroken (2018) and Raw (2021) followed, as well as two compilations albums – No Turning Back: The Story So Far (2008) and What Matters The Most (2009).

Noll has teamed up with many country music artists including John Williamson (Island of Oceans), Adam Harvey (It’s All Over Now), Jayne Denham (Beyond These City Lights), Lee Kernaghan (Spirit of the Anzacs), Southbound (Find Our Way) and Darlinghurst (You Stopped Making Sense). He’s also played at festivals like Deni Ute Muster, Savannah in the Round, Big Country Festival, Big Red Bash, Groundwater Country Music Festival and more.