How to turn fantasy into reality

Shane Cortese knew it was the worst audition of his career. He’d blown a role that had been written just for him. So he thought, “What would Hugh Jackman do”

He figured Jackman, his idol, would have persuaded the casting director to give him another shot, so he did, and this time he produced the perfect audition for the lead in TV show Nothing Trivial.

“Now I’m not putting myself in his shoes, but what if a young Kiwi kid had access to me, and I could tell him what happened and what I did to fix it” asks Cortese.

Actor-singer Cortese, his ballroom-dancer wife Nerida, New Zealand’s Got Talent music director Michael Dennison and veteran vocalist Tina Cross have combined to launch a mentoring service for aspiring entertainers.

Dennison – who sees plenty of such hopefuls, having just begun the first off-screen auditions for the second season of NZGT – conceived the original idea, kicking it around with Cortese on a road trip to Rotorua for a gig.

“You see great prizes at the end of these shows, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if instead of $20,000 and a car, they got a year’s worth of Dave Dobbyn, a year of sitting in a studio, or a year’s worth of an agent or lawyer to map out the longevity of a career rather than the short-term hit” Cortese says. “We thought there was a gap in the market.”

For Dennison, it’s an opportunity to help these aspirants rather than herd them through an audition room. “I see some really delusional people,” he jokes, “but also some wonderfully talented people and some people who, if I had more than five minutes with them, I could really help. But, of course, there’s another 100 people waiting so we don’t have the time.”

Nerida Cortese already has mentoring experience. Through a programme run by children’s charity Variety, she helps a 12-year-old Christchurch dancer who’s been forced to practise on old lino in her backyard since the earthquakes ruined her local gym.

“You can become lost quite easily,” she says. “With the right advice, I might have reached my goals earlier . . . I was lucky, I got there in the end, but I think a lot of people get lost on the way and give up.”

Cross says the modern generation expect more, and expect it now, so the mentors know their clients will be demanding – especially as they will pay a $140 joining fee and a $40-a-month subscription to get advice by email and attend regular workshops.

But the mentors promise honesty. “We will give you non-sugarcoated advice. If you need a kick up the pants, we will give you it,” says Shane Cortese.

To give them an initial challenge and perhaps their first punter, Star-Times crime reporter Rob Kidd reluctantly agreed to deliver one of his late-night karaoke classics (Otis Redding’s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay), although he found the panel more of an intimidating audience than the easygoing drinkers at Auckland’s QF Tavern.

Nerida Cortese suggested some stage presence tips, Shane had some advice about confidence, Cross said he needed to be calmer to control his pitch, and Dennison suggested he listen to tapes of himself to identify when he lost pitch.

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“But there is a vocal future there – put him in band, he’d be great,” declared Shane Cortese. Could Kidd swap the press bench at the Manukau District Court for the stage of Vector Arena “Give up the day job,” Cross beamed.