By Gina Jeffreys
I came from a country town called Toowoomba that felt like a million miles away from the Country Music Capital.
My Mum and Dad drove me to Tamworth on one of the hottest days I can remember in January 1991 in their little Mazda 323 with no air-conditioning. We had to pull over twice because my nose starting bleeding – I think from the heat or maybe it was the anticipation of the trip to what would change my life forever.
I didn’t know a single soul in the industry and I quickly learned that everyone else either knew each other or came from a famous musical family. I guess in hindsight it was a good thing to be so oblivious to this new world because I somehow had this braveness that I never thought I had in me.
My dad was so beautiful in the car on that trip. He told me to just close my eyes and imagine myself winning Star Maker. He would even say imagine them reading out your name as they open the winner’s envelope.
And they did! I still remember it so well. “And the winner is ……. Gina Hillenberg!”
A bleached blonde, mullet-wearing Keith Urban handed me my framed certificate. There was no beautiful brand new Toyota back then. Just this certificate and the entire industry watching on expecting you to follow in the footsteps of Lee Kernaghan, James Blundell, and of course Keith.
It seemed that Star Maker was the place everyone turned to, to see who would be the next big thing.
It was so overwhelming. The next day our motel room was filled with flowers of congratulations, and my phone rang non stop for me to do interviews all over Australia.
I have no doubt in my mind that my life would have turned out very differently if I had not entered Star Maker.
I was always a very motivated and ambitious person, but I had absolutely no idea how to get from a little girl singing in a band a couple of nights a week to multi gold and platinum albums and touring Australia and the world.
I think about Star Maker often and feel so overwhelmingly grateful for everything that it and the Tamworth Country Music festival gave me.
This was also the night I met my future husband. I have no memory of meeting Rod McCormack this night because the night was such a blur of excitement – but Rod remembers.
I often think that if I had never entered Star Maker I wouldn't have met the love of my life! I’m grateful on so many levels.
I also met another Star Maker winner in 1993 – Beccy Cole. We hit if off instantly and I finally felt like I fitted in. Beccy made anywhere we were feel like home.
We were both a long way from our home towns and I love to think that we were the beginning of Australian Country Music girls being great mates, and supporting each other, through everything life threw at us!
We truly celebrated each others success and still watch on proudly as girls kick all kinds of goals in the music industry. Meeting Beccy was one of my favourite things to ever happen to me in my whole life.
Highlights for me since winning Star Maker include getting to tour with Johnny Cash, playing for the troops in East Timor with John Farnham and Kylie Minogue, singing on TV in China to over 1.3 billion people, touring with Lee Kernaghan, Troy Casser – Daley, The Songbirds (Beccy and Sara Storer) and getting to be good friends with Lyn Bowtell and Kate Ballantyne (more Star Maker winners!) … and so much more!
Now our son Jacky is growing up to be a musician too and I am a very proud Mum! He certainly is the best thing we have ever done as a couple and we tell him everyday that out of all the wonderful things we have done in our life he is the best!
Star Maker is an Australian Institution that offers opportunities like no other. I believe there is no other talent search in Australia that has produced so many big stars - and that is really saying something!
Star Maker, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
In her first visit back to Tamworth in 9 years Gina will also join good friends Beccy Cole, Tania Kernaghan and Lyn Bowtell in a laid-back Women Behind The Songs concert at Wests Leagues on Tuesday evening 22 January – plus she will showcase songs from her long-awaited up-coming album at an exclusive album preview.