Quest for Talent Judges

Quest for Talent Banner

Monday Judges

Katelyn Newham

Katelyn Newham was born and raised on the beautiful Gold Coast, Australia. She began her dance training on the Gold Coast at the prestigious, Coastal Dance Theatre for over 10 years studying under the proficient direction of owner Kay Horsey. Katelyn then re-located to Brisbane in 2010, where she trained full time at the esteemed Davidia Lind Dance Centre obtaining her diploma in Musical Theatre and Commercial Dance.

Since then Katelyn has gone onto complete many professional overseas contracts around the globe for internationally recognized companies.
In 2011 she lived in Mumbai, India staring and dancing in over 100 Bollywood films as well as promo events, productions and video clips. Continuing her success for over 10 months in Xiamen, China as a Dancer and Assistant Choreographer for the well-established ‘Soul Bar Entertainment’ performing nightly shows and events. Katelyn then completed a contract for ‘Norwegian Cruise Line’ as Dance Captain and Featured Vocalist onboard the Norwegian Gem. For the past year Katelyn has been the resident ‘Super Girl’ character at Warner Brother’s Movie World Theme Park on the Gold Coast Australia, as well as Lead Dancer and Suit Character’s.

While completing successful contracts and travelling around the world Katelyn has expanded her passion for choreography and teaching all over the East Coast of Australia having taught at the well-regarded dance studio ‘Project Movement Brisbane’, ‘Rock Hampton Academy Of Dancing’ and ‘Ikin Dance’ teaching all genres from Tap, Jazz, Musical Theatre, Lyrical, Contemporary, Technique, Limber Conditioning and Acrobatics… to name a few.
She has also worked for entertainment companies in Australia such as ‘Velvet Rope Entertainment’, ‘Chique Entertainment’, and ‘Dream Weavers’.

Heather Blasdale Clarke

Heather Blasdale Clarke is the world’s leading authority on early Australian colonial dance. She has a background in British folk dance traditions and classical ballet, and has performed on both stage and screen She is currently undertaking a Doctorate at QUT to research convict dance in the early years of the colony. Most importantly, Heather aims to enrich Australia’s dance heritage through workshops, seminars and the publication of research findings. The website www.colonialdance.com.au is her prime site for providing readily accessible dance instructions, music and history.

Tuesday Judges

Ashley Gittins

Ashley Commenced performing as a boy soprano at the age of four and then the trumpet at seven, having then played many instruments with many groups, a wonderful journey that has taken him around the world as a band and orchestral trombonist and brass band Euphonium soloist.

It has been his privilege to support many terrific artists over the years from cutting edge acts like Tim Minchin and Sarah Blasko, to favourites such as Troy Cassar-Daley, Marcia and Deni Hines, the late Jimmy Little and Rob Guest. A particular highlight was the 2014 tour of the Kings Singers. Ash always finds himself watching and marvelling at their sheer artistry and stagecraft-storing away these memories for later sharing.

He has taught in countless schools in both the state and private education systems for the past 31 years and now has many former students engaged as teachers, performers and life-long musicians.

Ash’s future dream is to find time to get back to his first loves – singing and song writing.

Dr Huge

Dr Huge started out as a singing Christmas tree in kindergarten in a small country town. He went on to learn piano, guitar and trumpet before falling in love with drums at 15. His high school music teacher nicknamed him ‘Huge’ and he took it for a stage name.

Growing up in amateur theatre and playing in school jazz, rock and concert bands, Huge played drums and percussion in originals and covers bands around south-east Qld, professional theatre and studio sessions covering pop, punk, jazz, funk, metal, country, jingles and more.

Huge started taking his own compositions seriously and fronted original bands as a singer/guitarist in the mid-90s before joining Celtic folk band Bun’ Ber E in 1997. This introduced him to the world of marching bagpipe bands and the joys of traditional music. Bun’ Ber E released three albums and recorded another as-yet-unreleased album before going on hiatus in 2008.

A hankering to work in the media dragged Huge back to study journalism, which led to five years editing the acclaimed Internet political journal, On Line Opinion. This raised his interest in self-publishing Bun’ Ber E’s music on the Internet and building a music business using the latest technologies. He formed The Genre Benders in 2006 for the purposes of a PhD study into Independent music business models. To make his research more readable to non-academics, he self-published an e-book called How the Record industry Got it So Wrong.

One of the accidental outcomes of his PhD research was the world’s first and only free, open, online music industry network at www.musowiki.net. In 2011 Dr Huge was commissioned to compile resources for the Music Council of Australia’s www.musiccareer.com.au.

With experience straddling the creative, business and academic worlds, Dr Huge is the Brisbane Regional Coordinator for the Australian Songwriters Association and is passionate about helping Independent musicians develop their craft to its full potential.

Thursday Judges

Kate Schirmer

Kate Schirmer graduated from the University of Queensland (UQ) in 2004 with a Bachelor of Music with First Class Honours, majoring in vocal performance, and from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music (QCGU) in 2015 with a Masters of Music Studies in Vocal Pedagogy (Jazz). During her time at QCGU, Kate was awarded the Griffith Award for Academic Excellence.

During her time at UQ, she had the opportunity to perform the operatic roles of 3rd Lady in The Magic Flute (2002) and Despina in Cosi Fan Tutte (2004).

In 2004 and 2005, she was a finalist in the Triple J raw comedy competition as a stand up and also in a musical trio.
Since then, she has been active as a jazz, cabaret and music theatre performer in and around Brisbane, at various locations, but particularly with the Emerge Project at the Judith Wright Centre and the UQ big band. She also performs her jazz-gypsy-pop inspired originals with her band “Kabuki Kombi” and with world music quartet “Orsino’s Safari”.
Chorally, Kate has both conducted and performed in many choirs, including Queensland Kodaly Choir, So-La Voce Chamber Choir, and St Stephens Cathedral Schola (as a chorister), and a number of community and school-based choirs (as a conductor). In late 2014, Kate performed with The Rolling Stones as part of their Australian tour, with the 24-piece “Vibrancy” Choir.

Kate is a highly experienced singing teacher, and currently works at JMC Academy in South Brisbane, where she teaches tertiary level contemporary voice students and lectures in Ensemble Studies, as well as retaining a small home studio and working in the acting department at South Bank TAFE teaching music and singing skills. In 2016 she is thrilled to be joining the vocal teaching team at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in the Music Theatre department.

She has enjoyed the chance to run vocal health workshops for teachers, actors and choristers as well as focused workshops on Music Theatre performance, Contemporary Choral Music and Gospel Music.
Kate is a proud member of the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing (ANATS) and has served on the Queensland Chapter Committee since 2013.

Harmony James

“When I was a kid I almost believed I was a cowboy in the American West,” she confesses. “We didn’t have a TV. We had wall-to-wall bookshelves and I would hide a Western book under my pillow and read it at night with a torch. I realised I should write songs for a living, because I was so obsessed with that fantasy, with lyrics, and with song. I wished I was in 1800s and it strongly influenced the way I phrase things.”
If you like your country bittersweet, be thankful for the predicament that Harmony James finds herself in. The former jillaroo, who has always preferred to drift in lonely outposts, learned her song-writing craft under wide-open skies. Now, thanks to the phenomenal success of her first two albums, she hasn’t been near a horse for a couple of years. Small wonder she’s called her third album Cautionary Tales.

“I’m a city rat now,” she laughs of that sacrifice, “although more accurately it’s the ’burbs of Brisbane. My life has changed massively – and hence I’ve ditched the cowgirl hat because it no longer feels authentic. It’s a bit like, ‘Be careful what you wish for’

Harmony’s 2009 debut album, Tailwind, was chased by a slew of accolades: breakthrough awards from VCMA and APRA, Golden Guitar nominations for Best Female Artist and Best Album, eight top ten songs on the National Country Music Charts and first prize in the country division of Nashville’s International Songwriting Competition. The follow-up, 2012’s Handfuls of Sky, was critically acclaimed and produced ‘Pride’ which spent six weeks a top the Country Music airplay charts.

Thankfully, the change of scenery has only inspired her songwriting further. Recording Cautionary Tales in Albert Studios and Ramrod in Sydney, she kept on board long-time producer Herm Kovac and her regular band (guitarist Glen Hannah, bassist Jeff McCormack and drummer Steve Fearnley). Tracking live, they played intuitively together, with overdubs of mandolin, fiddle and pedal steel added later. The result is an album that’s all heart.

Harmony deals in honesty and empathy, whether she’s channelling the grief of a family that’s sold out to a fracking company in ‘#CSG’, or imagining the internal lives of stoic old stockmen in ‘Cold Western Wind’. Often her observations are vignettes, with deft little touches such as ‘searching for distractions in the pages of an in-flight magazine’ during a journey of heartache in ‘30,000 Feet’.

The agonising ‘Icebergs (The Day That Never Came)’ is a simple piano piece about the death of a child – and how human interactions continue oblivious to someone’s private turmoil: ‘Somebody asked me how I’d spend the long weekend / Said I’d go hiking in the hills, I try to do it every spring / She laughed and said, well ain’t you fancy-free? … With no idea what’s driving me’.

In ‘Faraway Eyes’, there’s a painful moment of discovery: ‘I found a map he’d been reading with a route marked out in red/ And the road he’d be leading didn’t bring him home again / It was creased and worn like he’d had it long, long time’. It’s inspired by Harmony’s Baptist preacher father back in Victoria. “He’s been a stayer,” she says, “but he has a restless nature. He’s always been hankering for this other world that he didn’t choose.

Even with her craft admired by top songwriters in the field – Don Walker and Bill Chambers among them – Harmony understands there are games one needs to play. “People want me to write peppy up-tempo, but that’s not my natural position,” she admits. ‘There’s usually a sneaky undertone of regret or remorse or guilt. For me to do jazz hands and all that stuff, I really have to push out of myself.”

While this may be true, moments like ‘Skinny Flat White’ (written with Brooke McClymont as an observation of interaction in the city) and the sassy ‘Something Something’ do counterbalance the pathos. It’s Harmony’s hope, though, that her lyrics will trigger cinematic visuals in the listener, just as John Williamson’s songs do for her. Take the epic ‘Pancho’s Boy’, with its mariachi horns, Confederate-style drumming and panoramic structure. It segues into traditional Western melody ‘Red River Valley’ towards the end, and then a single harmonica line, as might be played at a campfire. That couldn’t be more of a Harmony James touch.

“When I was a kid I thought I was a cowboy in the American West,” she confesses. “We didn’t have a TV. We had wall-to-wall bookshelves and I would hide a Western book under my pillow and read it at night with a torch. That’s how I realised I should write songs for a living, because I was so obsessed with that fantasy. I wished I was in 1800s and it strongly influenced the way I sing.”

In that spirit and with an uncanny ability to put herself in other people’s boots, Harmony James has created a beautifully wrought album in Cautionary Tales, shining a light on the human condition.