While Joel Turner's beat-
boxing during last year's Australian Idol won him the show's "Unforgettables" competition (for alternative acts) and
a gig at the Idol grand final, his career really took off thanks to a show we haven't even seen. Taping Network Ten's never-aired retro special Throwback 70 in late 2003, record producer and Idol judge Mark Holden crooned his sugary 1970s hit "I Wanna Make You My Lady" while Turner provided the vocal percussion that is beatboxing. "I said
to Mark, 'Is it cool if I play your guitar?'" says Turner. Recalls Holden: "I heard him beatbox and play the guitar and I went, 'What the hell is that?'"
It was the sound of Turner breaking through. Holden asked the 17-year-old from Brisbane if he had any demo recordings; he did, and on Nov. 1 the very song he sent, "These Kids," reached No. 2 on the aria charts. Soon Turner and his group, the Modern Day Poets - brother Tim, 21, and cousin Chris Turner, 17, make up the trio - had a gold record. Says Turner: "It's just awesome to hear it on the radio."
Inspired by the suicide of a "good mate," "These Kids" reaches out to "kids who are thinking about suicide," says lyricist Tim. And as part of a family of five whose mother struggled on a sole-parent pension, Turner
is accustomed to "growing up rough." On promotional tours "I can't sleep in hotels," he says, "because I'm used to not having much. I ring up (friends) and say, 'Can I crash at your place?'" The art of making-do stemmed from his youth. As a 7-year-old drumming student, Turner "didn't have a drum kit," he says, "so I would grind my teeth together to practise the rhythms." Which drove his mum up the walls of their Acacia Ridge home. "I don't miss the beatboxing," Grace, 50, says of her son, who now spends much of his time interstate, "but I really miss him playing the guitar."
With the release on Nov. 1 of their self-titled debut album (which includes a rap by boxer Anthony Mundine), Turner - who
provides the beats, sings and plays guitar and bass - has proved he's more than a human beat machine. "With his bare hands and mouth he's made something utterly unique," says Holden of Turner, who will perform a "beatbox symphony" at this year's Idol grand final. "He's a young genius."