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  • Writer's pictureHayley Bessell

The illustrious career of Courtney Act

The effervescent Courtney Act will once again be gracing our screens as the new host of ABC’s 'One Plus One', from 28 June 2021.

In this series of 'One Plus One', the naturally warm, witty and self-confessed curious Courtney will talk to a number of 'young Australians' including Indigenous singer/songwriter (and fellow Eurovision hopeful) Mitch Tambo, Lisa Origliasso (childhood friend and also one half of the Veronicas) and model Aweng Chuol.

Ahead of the show we wanted to look back over her long, varied and successful career.

Early beginnings

Born in Brisbane, Shane Jenek grew up in the northern coastal suburb of Brighton. As a child, Jenek loved to sing and dance, and in 1987 at just five years old, he won a local competition called Tiny Tots.

At six years of age, he started going to a talent school and when a little older, he formed a singing and dancing group called 'Yabba Dabba Do' with close friends, Jessica and Lisa Origliasso (better known as the Veronicas).

Young Shane found solace in his creative side and thrived at the theatre groups he attended, describing them as his "safe haven".

Academically he also succeeded, having the option to study medicine at the end of High School, something he passed up as his "heart wasn't in it".

Becoming Courtney

When in Sydney visiting a friend, Jenek visited LGBTQI venue, Stonewall on Sydney's iconic Oxford Street. This is where he says his eyes opened and he had his 'gay awakening', telling that:

My friends took me to Stonewall and I just remember like being, “hang on, all of these people are gay, this newspaper, this is a gay newspaper!” I just remember that very first night, it all just made sense, and I was like: Oh I get it!

It wasn't too long after that Shane began to explore drag, performing at a friend's event on New Year's Eve 2000 but she needed a name. She explains how the name came about:

"My friend Vanity Faire and I were sitting in a café in Crown Street in Darlinghurst and we were talking about names and I wanted to be called Ginger La Bon, because I wanted to be a smokey red head night club singer, and she thought that name was not appropriate for me, she thought that I should be something cute and girlie like Courtney. In Sydney all the drag queens have double entrendre names and I said, Courtney really slowly… Court… ney, Cour…t…ney Court…in…the Act…"

Soon after she began doing gigs and quickly received recognition winning the rising star award at the annual Diva Awards in 2002.

In 2003, Jenek auditioned for the first series for Australian Idol but did not progress… However, the following day, Shane came in as Courtney and made it through.

She made it to the initial live shows after being saved from elimination but just missed on making the Top 12. But by this stage she was a household name and she joined the finalists, including winner and Eurovision 2015 performer Guy Sebastian, on a live show tour of Australia.

After the dust settled, Act went back to the drag circuit on Oxford Street. She also signed a record deal with BMG Records, and while a single was released called 'Rub Me Wrong' which reached no.29 on the charts, an album didn’t eventuate.

Going international

In 2011, Act made the big move to Los Angeles, seeking international success. In 2014, Act was a contestant on season 6 of the legendary, RuPaul's Drag Race in USA.

Courtney made it all the way to the Top 3 after wins in the 'Shade: The Rusical' and 'Drag Queens of Talk' but lost out to eventual winner Bianca Del Rio.

Following 'Drag Race', Act released her debut EP Kaleidoscope in 2015, with one of the singles being an anthem for that year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras and in 2017, Act took her sold-out 'Girl From Oz' show around the world, debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

2018 turned out to be a big year for Courtney. After her previous reality TV show experience, Act cautiously entered the UK’s 'Celebrity Big Brother'.

Both Shane and Courtney appeared in the house and an unlikely friendship was formed with conservative MP Anne Widdecombe. Courtney and Shane won the hearts of the nation as they were voted as the winner of the series.

Later that year, Act hosted bi-sexual dating show, called the 'Bi Life' and also finished a world tour of her show 'Courtney Act: Under the Covers', and had her very own Christmas special.

Back to Australia and... Eurovision?

Now to the Eurovision part… as you all know, the first Australia Decides was held in 2019 to choose our entrant and Courtney was in the line up. When announced she explained why she threw "her wig in the ring":

"A sweet 16 years after 'Australian Idol' I have the chance to show Australia how I have grown as an artist and a performer and I am so excited. I've sat at home every year since Guy Sebastian competed in 2015 and have been so keen to be a part of it. Now, this might be my chance!"

Courtney entered the upbeat dance song 'Fight for Love' and she put in a strong performance on the Gold Coast. It was not to be for Courtney, finishing a respectable 4th behind eventual winner Kate Miller-Heidke.

In 2019 Act also entered and excelled in 'Dancing with the Stars' (Australia) and became even more popular.

Finishing as runner up, Act and her dancing partner were the first same sex couple to ever compete. In one much talked about routine, Act rips her outfit and wig off, wipes away her make-up to reveal Shane. This was a liberating experience for Act and bought the topic of gender identity into living rooms across Australia.

Following her 'Dancing with the Stars' appearance, both Shane and Courtney appeared on iconic Australian soap 'Neighbours'. Jenek speaks positively about his time on the show saying they and the viewers were “straight allies accepting queer people to take it to the mainstream”.

Courtney has gone on to do a plethora of shows and appearances including co-hosting the Sydney Mardi Gras coverage on SBS (where this year she interviewed Montaigne ahead of her Eurovision appearance), appearing on 'Celebrity Come Dine With Me' and 'Celebrity Mastermind' as well as starting her own podcast this year 'Brenda, Call Me!'

This latest offering from Act with 'One Plus One' shows another side to her expanding portfolio.

On her Facebook page, she has hilariously coined herself the “Barbara Walters of Brisbane” and we don't disagree!

Courtney (and Shane) has worked hard to build a successful career and we look forward to what she can bring to the show from Monday.

You can tune into watch ABC's 'One Plus One' on Monday 28 June at 8:00pm.


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