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Nathaniel Willemse

Career confessions from The X Factor’s Nathaniel Willemse

Nathaniel Willemse is no stranger to career uncertainty. The performer, who’s appeared on both Australian Idol and The X Factor has explored every possible angle in order to find success as a solo artist. He reflects on what it takes to build a career in a creative industry.

Nathaniel’s passion for music developed early

My dad has nine brothers. They all play guitar and used to sing at our family gatherings. I was influenced by that world. I also sang at church and in choirs. The seed was planted and started growing. I was one of those kids that didn’t know what they wanted to do when they finished high school. It was only at the end of high school when I thought, ‘I love doing this, I’ll try and walk in this direction’. That’s when I thought about what I needed to do on a serious level to get there.

He wasn’t ready for stardom when he appeared on Australian Idol

I did Idol in 2006 when I was 20 and made the top 24. A lot of my friends didn’t know I sang because I didn’t sing in school and there I was on this national singing competition on TV. It was a big thing to be on TV and get judged. When I got booted from Idol I was green. I wasn’t ready. When I look back now I can say that was the case. It knocked me around in terms of confidence. I put the brakes on a bit and did nine-to-five work. I worked as a singing teacher for about five years. But I got the courage to start performing again and I kept going. My parents were in my corner; they knew how much I loved it. I was performing at bars, weddings and cover gigs. I also started to write songs and produce. It was a dot-to-dot phase.

His previous experiences didn’t stop him from auditioning for The X Factor

I did The X Factor when I was 27. I had an idea of how it operated, but still not entirely. It was fun and challenging. I’m naturally reserved, but when I get on stage I’m a different type of person. This time there was a lot of comfort zone breaking. I pushed myself. I had worked on my craft and it paid off. A lot of people have a poor mindset about talent shows, but I think if you give it your all you can go far. And it’s priceless exposure. It can open so many doors.

'My advice to those looking at doing this as a job: treat it as business. Work on your craft and never stop learning.'

Nathaniel Willemse,

He came to terms with the reality of failure in life

There’s failure in life and that’s something I’ve accepted. I’ve learned how to adapt to it. There are massive highs and lows with the career I’ve chosen. When you release a song and it doesn’t do well that can knock you back. But I know if one song doesn’t work I can release another song. It’s not easy being a full-time musician – you need to have the passion and dedication in your pocket to have longevity in this industry. I’m 31, it’s taken time to build my career. You have to have patience. If you cover the things off your checklist then eventually you get there. My advice to those looking at doing this as a job: treat it as business. Work on your craft and never stop learning.

He drew supportive people around him to succeed

I met Gary Pinto 10 years ago when I was on Idol, he was one of the lead singers in 90s band CDB. He’s being one of my main mentors and I’ve often called on him for advice. Gary encouraged me to stretch the rubber band, push the boundaries, go into battle and not fear losing. One of my career highlights was performing with Mariah Carey. We had dinner together and she played me a couple of demos that were unreleased. Her advice it to be true to yourself and do what you want to do, but understand that in this industry there is sometimes some compromising. Mentors have encouraged dedication. I want to make sure my passion is always alive. I want to make sure I wake up and have music on my mind. I don’t want to be better than anyone else, but I will always work to better myself.

Deakin’s Career Confessions series features high profile Australians in many diverse industries. Read what acclaimed ballet dancer David McAlister or Deakin’s own chancellor John Stanhope have to say. 

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