Think Dean Geyer and season four of Australian Idol immediately springs to mind. This young ex-South African singer songwriter actor, who has an exceptional singing voice, innocent disposition and charm, has stolen the hearts of many. A natural performer, with baby face good looks and an angelic smile, it is no surprise that he was offered a part in Neighbours, the drama series that made Kylie Minogue and Delta Goodrem famous. This talented and utterly modest entertainer recently spoke to Sabona about his craft, sporting prowess (he has a black belt in karate), immigration experience, tight knit family and plans for the future.
How did you adjust to leaving South Africa and settling here?
We left Joburg in 2001 and it was quite good timing for me. At that stage I had only completed my first year at King Edward VII School (KES). I went to Melbourne High and started year nine. At most other high schools, year nine is the second year of high school, but our school enrolled students from that year so everyone was new and we were all in the same boat.
It was a bit of an adjustment for me in the beginning as KES has a very high standard of sporting activities, including rugby, which I played, while Melbourne High focuses more on the academic side of things. But I soon got used to it and chose to continue playing rugby instead of 'footy' (AFL), while I was there.
It's been said that you “instantly fell in love with the culture of Melbourne”. Is this true?
Definitely. My family and I are happy we settled in Melbourne. The culture is quite similar to what we experienced back in South Africa and we have fallen in love with the freedom we have here.
Something we had to do before we immigrated was alter the pronunciation of our surname. My grandpa advised us to do this and we are so glad we did. The guttural sounding 'G' does not quite resonate with Australians!
Is it true that you were “not made for school” and that you started modelling and then performing at cover band gigs straight after you left school?
It certainly is. In 2004, my final year at school, I became one of the band members of Third Edge. I met the guitarist at Schoolies Week in Noosa. We had a couple of jams, then decided to do an open mike night at an Irish pub and a representative of a local radio station asked us if we would like to be on the radio.
So there we were on holiday, thinking: "Oh my goodness, we are going to be on radio and become famous" and a band seemed to be the way to go.
Before long we had a drummer and a bass player and started to play gigs around Melbourne. It didn't pay well, but it was great experience. Coming out of school I had never done any gigs. I had just been writing songs and playing by myself. So I guess that's when it really started.
Modelling was an interesting sideline. I didn't do it for long. I'm not tall enough to do a lot of the runway stuff, but honestly, it was so much fun and has been something that I can fall back on when I need to do publicity shots.
That whole roller coaster ride that was Idol, how did it change you?
I have had to mature rather quickly.
The only time we were really nervous was during the Australian Idol ad breaks, just before we were about to perform for the nation and when we were brought onto the stage, wired up with the microphone and the crowd was fired up. There was a ripple of tension in the studio, the countdown and then an agonising 10 seconds into the song. Once that was over, it was fine!
The SonyBMG label Rush came out pretty soon after you left Idol. Tell us how the title came about.
After Idol everything seemed to move into fast forward mode – in a rushed and hectic pace – and that sums up the album. Song writing sessions were conducted in one or two days, whereas in the past I had always taken months to write songs. There were regular promo trips and I would be flying interstate on a daily basis, sometimes three times a day.
How did you come to act in Neighbours?
I was initially approached by Neighbours just after Idol, but I turned it down because I wanted to pursue my music career. Then I got approached again and had many disagreements with my family and my girlfriend at the time because they saw it as a fantastic opportunity, and I was not exactly convinced. Being the person that I am though, I did some soul searching, and the rest is history.
It was a fantastic experience and I worked with a great bunch of people. I honestly would not have been able to perform the way I did without them.
Obviously playing an Australian part, I had to tone down my accent, something that wasn't difficult. It had become a habit during my school days as I had grown tired of having to repeat myself all the time!
Will you be working on acting as well as your music in the future?
Yes, I am currently writing for my next album and will be going to the United States at the end of January to audition for what's called the pilot season, where sample episodes of television shows are produced in the hope that they are chosen by networks for the following Autumn's schedule, and casting becomes a primary concern.
At the moment it seems like acting is leading the way. Yet I am certain that one discipline will lead to the other because they are both part of the same industry.
Your philosophy on life seems very healthy and balanced, both spiritually and physically. Tell us about your karate achievements and your Christian faith?
I come from a very sporty, Christian family. All my uncles are personal trainers and my aunties are aerobics instructors. My family has a strong connection to martial arts, and my sister, father, grandpa and I have black belts. I also love rugby, fishing, snowboarding and skiing.
The spiritual side of things is very important to us too. My Christian beliefs hold me in good stead no matter where I am. I stick to my guns morally and am big on tolerance, acceptance and respect of other people's spiritual beliefs.
Before I was given this assignment to interview you, there was a barrage of requests from Sabona readers to meet you. Are you aware of how popular you are?
I know it sounds like a cliché, but I am really surprised at all the publicity I have received. I am really just this little South African boy who did not believe there were any opportunities for me in music or acting while I lived there. Going on to Idol and becoming popular almost overnight was a very strange thing. You eventually stop feeling awkward and weird and get used to it, but it still surprises me.
Christmas is here so we can't resist asking what presents you are hoping to get, what memories you have of past Christmases in South Africa and how you spend Christmas Down Under.
Nothing really springs to mind regarding receiving presents, but I love buying presents for my family. It's fun taking my sisters shopping too!
We had the best Christmases in South Africa. I remember that every Christmas back then seemed better than the last. My parents must have been broke the following year. We got ridiculous presents. There was always tons of food too.
Our first Christmas in Australia was spent at my gran's place. It was quite a small gathering because at the time only my family and my auntie and uncle were over here.
Now that all our family is here, it's completely different. We have just started having Christmas dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We normally get together at the biggest house (my auntie's) and take the presents there.
My family is so loud. It's the craziest family you will ever meet! Of course, I get to sing for them…although I am the only one who has the singing gene. The whole lot of them are tone deaf!
Make friends with Dean: www.myspace.com/deangeyer
Christmas Gift Idea: The 2008 The Spirit of Christmas CD, which features Dean and other Australian performers singing Christmas carols. It is a Myer initiative and proceeds go to the Salvation Army's Red Shield Appeal.