Royston follows his dream
Uniting Church member Royston Sagigi-Baira is through to the Top 8 on Australian Idol
March 7, 2023
By Rebecca Beisler
Singing in the spotlight to a TV audience of thousands on Australian Idol is a long way from Old Mapoon, the tiny Aboriginal community at the tip of the country where Royston Sagigi-Baira grew up.
But for Royston, now through to the top eight of the competition, he is chasing his dream to sing professionally, and along the way, inspiring people across the country with his powerful voice, courage and determination.
"I really hope I can show it doesn’t matter where come from, or what been through, you can still do amazing things, as long as work hard and fight for your dreams.”
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Royston, a Thanakwithi and Badu Island man, grew up attending Old Mapoon Church on western Cape York, a former Presbyterian Mission which became part of the Uniting Church.
Speaking to the Assembly, Royston said church was the place he discovered his dream of singing. (He was also greatly inspired by First Nations singer Jessica Mauboy and the movie High School Musical). He fondly recalls growing up attending church services in Old Mapoon with other children and Elders from the community. He formed a close relationship with church leaders James Hughes and Rev Michelle Cook who would lead the youth singing at Sunday night worship. He has kept a strong connection to them and the Uniting Church ever since.
One of Royston’s great hopes in being a part of Australian Idol is to inspire others from his community, and anyone who has struggled with a lack of opportunities or other challenges in their life.
“In Mapoon there were no singers my age. We didn’t have music classes or anything. I didn’t have any musical influences other than church. None of my family or siblings sing, so I was very isolated,” Royston said.
“James and Michelle helped me a lot, especially in the early years starting out in music, to have that belief in myself that I could actually do it.”
“When you are from a remote Indigenous community, those types of dreams seem so far way. You think it could never happen to someone like me. That’s why for me it’s so important to give that representation on TV for mob back home, and in remote communities everywhere.”
“I have been through a lot of tough situations. I really hope I can show it doesn’t matter where you come from, or what you have been through, you can still do amazing things, as long as work hard and fight for your dreams.”
On Sunday night, Royston sang a powerful rendition of 'I Won't Let You Go' by James Morrison which he dedicated to his late mother, the same song he sang at her funeral. On Monday, it was revealed that he was voted into the top eight remaining on the show.
Royston said he was in the competition to make it to the end, but his dream was to become a signed artist in the music industry. His other great hope is to use whatever profile he has to inspire and support other young Aboriginal people.
Rev Michelle Cook shared how proud she was seeing Royston appear on the show.
“It is amazing to watch him sing and see him so brave, pushing himself in his craft,” she said. “I am tearing up right now just remembering that little boy and his dreams and then how he expresses himself on Idol. To hear him talk about giving to the community and making the world a better place is inspiring.”
James added, “He’s been awesome! He puts a lot of soul into his singing, he almost gets lost in the song, and it was just the same when he used to sing in Mapoon.”
“A lot of kids dream about singing, but Royston has always been very, very focused and has gone after his dream. He has worked so much on his voice, he’s taken on the advice he’s been given and come such a long way.”
Michelle said Royston always took great delight in singing the “Scripture in Song” hymns that James would lead with his reggae beat guitar. Royston recalled a favourite hymn they’d ask James to play was Honey in the Rock, and remembered learning hymns in Tjungundji, translated by one of the Elders, so they could sing in their traditional language.
Royston was a participant in various Easter Madness camps run by the Queensland Synod and when he moved to Brisbane, was a member of the Indooroopilly Uniting Church community. He has also been involved in First Nations advocacy through the Grasstree Gathering, a network of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders, and the #ChangetheHeart movement led by Brooke Prentis.
"Royston is like a little brother to me and I believe he has a God-given voice. I am very proud of who he has become, and it has been a privilege to be part of his journey," said Brooke, an Aboriginal Christian leader and Uniting Church member who first met Royston when leading a youth group in Mapoon in 2014.
Royston hopes one day to partner with other organisations working in remote Aboriginal communities to inspire other young people through music.
Royston will sing again this Sunday on Australian Idol on Channel 7 to garner support to stay in the contest. If you watch the show, you can support Royston by voting for him.
Learn more about the community of Mapoon.