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Drag idol: Sydney's Shane Jenek was rejected by Australian Idol until he became Courtney Act. Now he's headed to the USA.

If you think Clay Aiken transformed himself for American Idol, consider the tale of Australia's Shane Jenek. The 21-year-old Sydney resident entered Australian Idol--the Down Under version of the show--and failed to impress the judges enough to make the final cut. Not discouraged, Jenek bent both the rules and his gender by returning for the next day's auditions in drag. Courtney Act, already a popular performer on Australia's infamous drag circuit, not only breezed through the tryouts but became something of a media darling as she made it to the semifinals.

"The judges had absolutely no idea that Shane and Courtney were the same person," Jenek says. "The producers told them after Courtney made it on to the show. They were pretty surprised." His was a conscious strategy, he says: "I knew ahead of time I was going to enter as both, and was a bit worried [the judges] would figure it out."

That wasn't his only worry. "What if both Shane and Courtney made it on the show?" Jenek asks. "My God, I'd be running around in a panic trying to remember who wears the trousers and who has the makeup. The performing would have been the easy part."

Although the judges were quick to embrace Courtney, Jenek says, "I wasn't quite sure how Australia would take it." It turns out Australia was charmed: Jenek finished just below the top 10.

Courtney Act was immediately catapulted into the public eye. Many straight male viewers were convinced Courtney was actually a female, Jenek says: "A lot of people thought I was prettier than most of the girls on the show ... more glamorous."

Fans also saw Jenek as someone to admire. "It wasn't my intention to make a political statement," he says, "but I got fan mail from all over the country, from straight and gay people, saying how great it is to see someone so comfortable with themselves." Quite a change from the guy who opened his own closet door by sending his parents a text message on their mobile phones: "I'm gay."

Courtney has been a hit ever since Jenek "created" her at a New Year's Eve party in 2000. "Some people thought I was Kylie [Minogue]," he says. Doing Courtney, says Jenek, reflects not a desire to be a woman but simply his love of performing. As a child he won Australia's Mr. Tiny Tot competition, which later landed him a stint as a young presenter on Oz's version of Nickelodeon television.

Now Jenek has his sights set on a singing career; he says he's close to signing a record contract with BMG Music, with his first single expected to target both the United States and the United Kingdom. Of course, it's Courtney we'll be catching in the act. "Courtney is signing the record contract," he admits cheerfully. I'll just be along for the ride, I guess."

Bel Bruno has written for the Los Angeles Times and other publications.
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Article Details
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Author:Bruno, Joe
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 9, 2003
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