INTERVIEW: Bonnie Anderson: from Neighbours to new single
She won Australia’s Got Talent when she was just a kid, she’s a favourite in Neighbours and her soaring voice brings the heartbreak of new single ‘Sorry’ to life. Is there anything Bonnie Anderson can’t do?
Bonnie Anderson has never been interested in the short-lived thrills of instant fame. Even when she won the first season of Australia’s Got Talent back in 2007, the idea of becoming an overnight success just never inspired her. Singing and performing, for Anderson, have always been about building her craft and evolving as a human. And with the release of her powerful new single ‘Sorry’, she is ensuring that growth continues.
“I wrote this song three years ago [but] I wasn’t really ready to put it out,” she reveals. “Now I feel so comfortable with who I am and what I’ve gone through. This is it – this is my time to put it out. Everything is just truth now. That’s what I want to do.”
Anderson was only twelve years old when she won the talent show that set her career in motion, but what is perhaps most remarkable about the story is that after winning, with offers flooding in from managers and record labels everywhere, Anderson chose to turn them all down and complete her schooling. “I needed to be a kid. I needed to just grow up. I needed to work for what I deserved, in a way,” she says now. “I was working at a bakery and cleaning dishes and that’s what I kept doing.”
She also used the opportunity to let her music evolve in its own way, away from the pressure of being a reality TV show winner. “I ended up going to venues asking for them to give me a gig,” she says. “Sometimes, I’d perform in front of hundreds of people, sometimes it was one person. I wanted to be old-school and do it that way because you can’t just expect to be given something overnight. You’ve got to just grind and that’s what I did.”
In 2013 Anderson released her debut single ‘Raise the Bar’, followed by four more singles over the next three years, including ‘The Ones I Love’ that edged its way into the top 50 on the US Billboard Dance Club chart. While Anderson has affection for these songs, she admits they didn’t reflect her as an artist. “Back then I didn’t get to show the true me,” she says. “I was kind of following in the footsteps of what was happening on radio at that time and I wasn’t sticking to my guns. I was just going with the flow. When you’re young you’re still discovering what you want to do.”
After her first five singles, Anderson switched her focus to acting, appearing in musical theatre and, from 2018, starring in legendary television soap Neighbours as the character Bea Nilsson. And while she says acting was always something she was interested in, a role in Neighbours was the furthest thing from her mind. “It’s the best job you can ever, ever, ever wish for,” she says. “It’s so cool that I’m a part of it, it’s changed my life for the better. Acting’s fun and I want to continue doing it. I want to see where it takes me.”
Anderson’s appearance on Neighbours coincided with her return to music and at the beginning of this year she released six covers, including ‘I’ll Be There’, originally by Jess Glynne, and ‘I Say a Little Prayer’, which Aretha Franklin’s soulful vocal made famous. In fact Anderson’s first musical love was soul, she says, and she remembers listening to singers like Aretha and Sam Cooke, “storytellers with really gutsy vocals”, when she was young.
Now, after signing a new record deal with BMG in April, Anderson’s first official single since 2016 has arrived. ‘Sorry’ is a powerful pop ballad with heartbreaking lyrics, and a repeated, syncopated vocal line that quickly becomes lodged in your head. But what rules the song is Anderson’s rich, warm, impressive voice, which is always compelling. Anderson says the process of creating the song changed her life. “It was one of those things that changed my life for the better, in a way, because it gave me a clearer mind. It gave me strength to just talk about something that was a reality in my life. It is my favourite song I’ve ever written, I’m so proud of it.” She also reveals the track you hear today is actually her very first vocal take of the song, with no later fixes or tweaks. “I didn’t want to re-record it because on the vocal take I did, all the emotions were there. So I thought, why change it?”
And while it may have been over three years from conception to release, Anderson says ‘Sorry’ has arrived at just the right time, when her personal growth has allowed it to say what she wants it to say. “It takes time to understand yourself, and understand the strength and the power that you are able to have,” she says. “[The song] is more me and I’m talking about my experiences. It’s a message of strength and I think that it’s so important to find that within yourself.” Anderson wanted to carry that message of strength through to the music video as well, which traces her character through a variety of happy relationships that disintegrate through arguments. “It’s about forgiving but not forgetting so that you can move on,” she says. “You’ve just got to be able to dissect a situation and move forward and just let it go, you know. And that’s the beauty of this film clip – she goes, ‘OK, I’m putting that behind me. I’m done with it.’ It’s about being strong enough to move forward from that moment.”
Outside of music and acting, Anderson is passionate about social causes, and applauds Neighbours for creating a truly inclusive cast. “They’re huge on being open to every aspect and every part of life,” she says. “We’ve got a transgender actor coming on the show and that’s something I’m so supportive of. We had our first gay marriage on air and that’s something that’s really important. People should just be accepted for who they are.”
She also focuses a lot of her time on support for the homeless. “Homelessness is something that I struggle with a bit. I’ve done a lot of work with homeless people for many, many years,” she says. “Interestingly, my character on Neighbours was homeless. It’s so weird how the universe puts two and two together.” Anderson says it isn’t just about giving money to the homeless, but acknowledging that people who are homeless are people – with real lives and real experiences. “A lot of times people walk past and don’t even look at people who are homeless,” she says. “Sometimes it’s about talking, because that’s what they lack, and what is special to them. You’ve got to respect people. That’s the main thing in life.”
With the release of ‘Sorry’, Anderson is now firmly back in the music world and embracing all it has to give, even if her new direction sometimes feels a little intimidating. “In a way it’s kind of scary because it’s representing me and no one else,” she says, with a hint of trepidation. “I’m laying it all out on the line. And I think that’s almost scarier than just putting out a pop song, which is what I used to do.” But she is more than ready for the challenge and to embrace the heartfelt storytelling side of her music, too. And the future looks bright.
“Oh, I can’t wait!” she says. “More music, more writing. Hopefully touring – I want to get out there on the stage and just gig, gig, gig.” She appears in short videos on YouTube in a series called Along Came Bonnie, and is keen to keep her acting work going too: “I want to explore that side of the world more,” she says. “But I’m enjoying just juggling my life with all of these things and we’ll see what else I can throw into the air. I can’t wait.”