It’s the year 2000 and an 11-year-old Jessica Mauboy is nervously walking on stage at her first-ever singing competition: the Adelaide River Country Music Talent Show. She’s wearing a velvet vest and skirt set with a cowboy hat and hoedown boots her mum hired from a fancy-dress shop. Backstage, the other performers are tuning their guitars, comparing notes with their bands and doing vocal exercises. Mauboy doesn’t have an instrument or a band or a vocal coach, she only has her backing track on a CD. She feels out of place. Standing on the stage in front of the crowd and judges, she keeps her eyes closed as she begins to sing Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine”. When Mauboy opens her eyes at the end of the song, the crowd erupts into grand applause. She takes a deep breath and holds her head high. “That was a defining moment for me because my deep passion for music overrode my fear,” says Mauboy, 31, who won the talent show. “Now, when I have moments of doubt and low self-esteem, I think back to that little girl on the stage. Even though I was afraid, I made it then and I’ll make it now.”
It’s a memory she has conjured many times in the past year, one of enormous change for Mauboy. She left her record label of 14 years, parted ways with her long-time manager and took total control of her life, career and music. “I knew I needed to do things my way and take the reins,” she says, admitting she was filled with fear over the decision. “Last year was probably my lowest and also my highest because I gained so much strength. I feel the most free I’ve ever felt.”
Mauboy has an uncanny ability to take a difficult situation and turn it into a source of strength. When Australian Idol judge Kyle Sandilands made a disparaging remark about her weight on primetime TV in 2006, she could have crumpled, but instead she rose. “Thinking back, it’s honestly scary that a grown man spoke to a 16-year-old girl like that. He made me feel self-conscious in front of millions of people,” she reflects. “I remember going backstage and looking at myself in the mirror. I told myself, ‘You’re OK. You are who you are.’ That moment taught me nothing could break me because I know who I am.”
If success is the best revenge, Mauboy is proof. As well as signing with a new “super dope cool” record label, she’s returning to her talent-show roots as a coach on Channel Seven’s The Voice and is being honoured as a L’Oréal Paris Woman of Worth (along with athlete Ellyse Perry, activist Rosie Batty and chef Poh Ling Yeow) to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the brand’s iconic tagline, “Because I’m worth it.” “I grew up with my mum’s L’Oréal products in the bathroom, but this campaign is about so much more than beauty products. It’s about telling our stories and being vulnerable with our struggles,” she says. “Only then will we realise we’re not alone, and work together to help value, foster and know our worth. We need to back ourselves, always.” Now, when Mauboy pictures her 11-year-old self standing nervously on that stage dressed as a cowgirl, she has one message for her: “Don’t change a thing.”
Ellyse Perry feels most like herself when she’s on the cricket pitch, bat in hand, staring down a ball speeding directly at her as fast as a Porsche on the highway. “Finding sport and becoming an athlete has given me a greater sense of self-esteem. The cricket pitch is the one domain where I feel like I’m really capable of asserting myself,” says Perry, 30, who grew up in Sydney playing sport at the park with her brother until the sun went down. “As a kid, I was really shy and self-conscious – I still am in a lot of respects. My confidence is fluid, it goes up and down, but the thing that is constant and static is self-belief.”
The other constant in Perry’s life is her post-match ritual, where she writes notes about her performance, game highlights and areas for improvement. She signs off each note with four words: confidence, belief, determination and resilience. “In sport and in life, I think if you keep those four things at the forefront of your mind, there’s not many challenges that you can’t get through,” explains Perry, who has represented Australia in both cricket and football, and is currently the captain of the Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash, playing as the world’s top-ranked all-rounder.
One of the biggest challenges she faces is feeling guilty. “At times, I feel like I’m not being a good enough family member or friend because sport is an inherently selfish job, so I’m often focused on myself,” she admits. “My family and friends are always there to support me, so I try to repay them by doing my best.”
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