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Chanel's fame grew largely from her appearance as a finalist in the second season of Australian Idol (2004). She was eliminated from the competition on 25 October having reached fifth place. Both her song choices and jazz-influenced vocal style were noted as setting her apart from the other Idol hopefuls, along with her eccentric hair accessories, which often included feathers, flowers and other ornaments.
Chanel Cole Whalley was born in Hamilton, New Zealand, on 13 November 1977. Her middle name was given to her because of her dark, "black-as-coal" eyes. Three years after her birth, Chanel's parents divorced. She spent four years with her mother before living with her father, where she attended a total of 12 different schools in as many different towns. During this time, she learned piano, singing, ballet, flute, and guitar, as well as having acting lessons. She completed grade twelve a year in advance, eventually graduating from Gisborne Girls' High School in 1996. Soon after, Whalley became a performer on the Gisborne pub circuit, singing under the moniker of "That Girl".
Whalley left home when she was 17, had a job as a part-time radio DJ, 2ZG and performed with Uknowit pub cover bands,while working in a record store Beatbox in Gisborne. She then spent a year at a jazz school in Christchurch NZ (1999) spending three years in England before heading to Australia. She traveled to Bega around her 23rd birthday so she could be closer to her mother. In June 2003 she had an article on New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy published in the New Zealand Listener. In 2004 she auditioned for the second season of the hit reality television show, Australian Idol.
Chanel auditioned for Australian Idol in both Canberra, where she was not put through, and Sydney, where her performance earned a standing ovation from Ian Dickson. Her bizarre sense of humour and atypical song choice immediately sparked an interest with viewers, particularly on the Internet. In the Solo Heat, Cole performed Alcoba Azul, a track featured on the soundtrack of the Frida Kahlo biopic, Frida, which Cole sang entirely in Spanish. After the performance, Dickson asked her to leave the room as she was "clearly above" the other contestants in terms of talent. Cole later confided that she felt "horrible" for being put in such an awkward position. In the group heat, Cole arranged a version of Dionne Warwick's Anyone Who Had a Heart. When one of the other girls fumbled with her lyrics, Cole improvised a duet to cover it up. All four girls involved in the song went on.
In the final vocal heat that determined selection into the final thirty, Cole performed a version of Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman, titled Pretty Boy. When the top thirty were announced, betting agency Centrebet named her the favorite to win. Overwhelmed at being pushed so abruptly into the public eye, a curious Chanel logged onto an Idol forum and burst into tears after being dismissed by an Internet troll as a "Björk impersonator". Her reaction was filmed and aired on an episode of Inside Idol. Cole later felt embarrassed that such a private, melodramatic moment was revealed to the Australian public.
In the first round of the semi-finals, Cole, who was wearing peacock feathers in her hair, performed a version of Portishead's underground hit Glory Box. She advanced to the final twelve. She performed a rendition of The Badlove's Green Limousine on "Australian Made" night. This performance was found to be mediocre, however. She reignited interest in herself with a performance of Shirley Bassey's History Repeating. Her performance was well received by the judges.
The next week, Cole performed the Dionne Warwick pop classic, Walk On By. Her performance was either loved or hated; Rolling Stone referred to her as "the thinking person's idol" while her odds on Centrebet began to drop. Cole's next performance, Jackson 5's Never Can Say Goodbye, was poorly received by the three judges. She won back some adoration the following week when she performed a version of k.d. lang's Constant Craving. She was still not as popular as she had been; Cole was in the bottom two that week, and barely escaped elimination.
Cole ended the following week in the bottom two when her performance of The Beatles' Across the Universe failed to earn her strong support. She survived, however, and performed Stop!, by Sam Brown the following week to exceptional reception. During "Up Close and Personal" week, Cole sang a rendition of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You. On R'n'B/Soul week, she performed Hit 'Em Up Style [Oops] by Blu Cantrell. Despite a strong performance she did not receive enough votes to keep her in the competition. Chanel Cole ended the second season of Australian Idol in fifth place.
- Audition - When I Get Low, I Get High, originally performed by Ella Fitzgerald.
- Solo Heat - Alcoba Azul, originally performed by Lila Downs.
- Group Heat - Anyone Who Had A Heart, originally performed by Dionne Warwick. (With Hayley Jensen & ??)
- Top 30 Selection Heat - Pretty Boy, originally performed by Roy Orbison.
- Top 30 Performance - Glory Box, originally performed by Portishead.
- Australian Made - Green Limousine, originally performed by The Badloves.
- Pop - History Repeating, originally performed by Propellerheads/Shirley Bassey.
- The 60's - Walk On By, originally performed by Dionne Warwick.
- Disco - Never Can Say Goodbye, originally performed by Jackson 5/Gloria Gaynor.
- Contestant's Choice - Constant Craving, originally performed by k.d. lang. Bottom 2
- The Beatles - Across The Universe, originally performed by The Beatles. Bottom 2
- The 80's - Stop!, originally performed by Sam Brown.
- Up Close & Personal - A Case Of You, originally performed by Joni Mitchell.
- R'n'B/Soul - Hit 'Em Up Style [Oops], originally performed by Blu Cantrell. Eliminated
Had Chanel continued in the competition, she would have performed "Give A Little, Get A Little" (Ella Fitzgerald) and "The Man I Love" (Billie Holiday) for Big Band night, "Blue" (Joni Mitchell) and "Benny & The Jets" (Elton John) on 70's night and "Teardrop" (Massive Attack) and "The First Taste" (Fiona Apple) in the final round.
Chanel has recorded a couple of tracks with her jazz musician friend, Aaron Choulai. However, the future of the collaboration and whether it will see the light of day is unknown. Cole's upcoming solo album's release date, which will probably feature the five compositions performed at Colestock 2005, is unknown as Cole is currently without a label. Cole has said that the album will be "vaudevillian pop", a mixture of blues, jazz, showtunes and chamber pop with a hint of dissonance, featuring organic, acoustic instrumentation.
- Australian Idol: The Final 10 (17 January 2005)
- The Dusk Sessions (4 October 2005)
- Good Times (24 January 2005)
- Cracked But Intact - Colestock 2005 [Live] (November 2005)
- Insatiable Banalities Podcast #99 - The Podcast, a joint Culturazi/RiotACT production [Live] (Recorded 17 November 2008, First filed 25 November 2008, Uploaded 26 November 2008). Interviews/discussions and songs.
Track list: •Counting the Cost. 4:59 •Cheese (Pete Lyon). 18:03 •The Bullet and the Gun. 29:45 •Carelessnesses. 46:39 •Billy Sweet. 58:25
- Come Find Out - Chanel sings the hook on this D'Opus & Roshambo hip-hop song (pre-tour, pre-album internet release on 9 March 2010)