Cosima De Vito was the most talked about woman in the nation this time 15 years ago, after she withdrew from Australian Idol suffering from vocal nodules.
De Vito, now 42, was in the final three of the reality show that often averaged over two million viewers in the ratings, up against Guy Sebastian and Shannon Noll when she withdrew.
The show was a national obsession and when she withdrew – live on television after Guy Sebastian got through to the final – everyone had an opinion.
In a candid interview, Cosima reveals all the details to news.com.au about that fateful day, her recent disappointment at Paulini and Mark Holden, the behind the scenes competiveness between the cast, the disappointment of not getting a major record contract and becoming a mum at the age of 41.
THE AUSTRALIAN IDOL WITHDRAWAL
Leading up to her withdrawal, De Vito, who was 26 at the time, says she could feel her voice failing and she was devastated. Weeks of tough conditions had taken their toll.
“As a vocalist, my voice to me is part of who I am,” she said.
“As the weeks were progressing, it was disappearing and it was really disheartening for me.
“I was like, what is going on?
“Something I always had of all the sudden was falling me, and it was really depressing.”
De Vito was then diagnosed with vocal cord nodules, a condition that can have a permanent impact on a singer’s voice if not looked after properly.
“Back then no one talked about it, god forbid, let’s not talk about nodules,” she said.
“If you continue singing, there is a real chance you would damage your throat. I went into panic mode to be honest.
“Looking back, would I have done the same thing again? I don’t know. But at that point I was young and I just freaked out.
“To me my voice was more important to me than the competition, I just wanted to protect that.”
De Vito wanted to publicly announce her withdrawal on the morning of the final three episode, but being reality TV, producers wouldn’t have it.
“The timing of it was all about TV and I had no control over it,” she said.
“I didn’t decide to do that, I would have done it in the morning.
“You get told what to do and they want to make it about the ratings, and that’s understandable.”
She wants to make it clear, she wasn’t suffering under the immense pressure of the spotlight that the show’s success had on the young cast, who became famous over night as the Australian public watched on.
“I didn’t crumble under pressure or any of that crap,” she said.
“It was my voice, full stop.
“Things might have worked out differently if I had have left in a different way, but that’s the way it is.
“I’m happy with my life and that’s all that matters.”
HER FEUD WITH PAULINI AND MARK HOLDEN
Recently both Paulini – who came fourth on Australian Idol – and Mark Holden – the famous judge on the show – had a subtle crack at De Vito, and it devastated her.
“I knew she wasn’t feeling well. There was were four of us left in the house. I was like, jeez, why didn’t she do it in my week?” Paulini told E News this year.
Holden said: “There are some people who when you shine a light on them they grow, and Guy (Sebastian) was one of those. Other people, the more light you shine on them, they shrivel and crack.”
This upset DeVito immensely, she told news.com.au.
“To be honest with you, I was bawling my eyes out,” she said.
“Call it post baby blues, but it was really upsetting to me, because this is something that had happened years ago.
“I wanted everyone to be happy for each other, not throwing punches.
“Maybe they said what they said unintentionally, but that doesn’t excuse it.
“For them to respond in the manner they responded in, I just thought there was no need for it.”
INSIDE THE IDOL HOUSE WAS TOUGH
De Vito admits she didn’t make many friends on the show, the 2003 cast included Guy Sebastian, Shannon Noll, Paulini, Rob Mills, Courtney Act, and the late Levi Kereama, who passed away tragically in 2009 after falling off a hotel balcony in Brisbane.
“We didn’t know each other and we were all thrust into this house together and we were all under so much pressure,” she said.
“It’s not easy to forge friendship when you are under that much pressure and you are trying to win a TV show.
“For me there wasn’t enough time to bond with people that maybe I could have bonded with.
“Maybe because of our strong personalities, we also didn’t get that opportunity. Sometimes it was a misunderstanding because someone took someone else’s song, or some other little things that created rifts between people.”
NO RECORD DEAL FOR COSIMA
After the show, Sebastian, Nolls, Mills and Paulini all got record deals with BMG, who was the record company at the time who had the rights to sign the Australian Idol finalists. This was before the merge of Sony and BMG – and another blow for Cosima.
“I always wanted to be part of a major record company and I was devastated that I wasn’t picked up,” she said.
“I understand why, because obviously with the whole nodule thing I disappeared for a few months, and I get that.
“I wanted to be at Sony because Celine (Dion) was at Sony, I wanted to be part of that machine that creates artists.
“So when it didn’t happen, I was like, what do I do now?”
Since that day De Vito has funded her records herself, and that includes her No.1 hit in 2004 of the cover of the Cold Chisel classic When The War Is Over.
It perfectly demonstrates her soaring vocals that made her such a threat on Australian Idol
Her first album featured songs written by the famous American songwriter Diane Warren, who has written for everyone from Whitney Houston, Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera.
“When I wasn’t signed I thought, I have to move forward, so clearly I had to do it on my own,” she said.
“No one was doing it back then, it was like, what the hell am I doing?
It was a difficult few years for De Vito, who ended up falling out with her original manager, Constantine Nellis, after her parents bankrolled her efforts to make it in the business reportedly to the tune of .1 million dollars.
She ended up in a long court battle with her former manager who sued her for 00,000 on unpaid royalties.
In the end a court ordered her to pay 0,000 to Nellis, in May 2009.
After all the drama, De Vito wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I do the songs I want to do and I have complete creative control,” she said.
“I don’t know what it’s like to be part of a major record company, because I’ve never had a major record contract.”
COSIMA IS HAPPY FOR GUY’S SUCCESS
De Vito hold no grudges about the success of other cast members of the 2003 Australian Idol series, in particular Guy Sebastian who is still one of the superstars of Australian music.
“It’s beautiful,” she said of Sebastian’s success.
“He took it and he ran with it. It could have gone a completely different way for Guy, but he has worked so hard. I respect that. It’s always been about the music first. That has always shone throw.
“He is a really nice guy. He’s a Dad, it’s beautiful and it’s so nice to see.”
If anything, she is really grateful for the experience of being part of the first reality show of its kind in Australia.
The X Factor and The Voice followed Australian Idol, and DeVito believes some of the gloss of such shows has been lost.
“For us it was extremely real,” she said.
“It was TV, but it was real. That’s the special spark the show had. Unfortunately, as you go on with reality TV shows and subsequent seasons, you lose that, and that can’t be helped.”
A NEW MUM AND STILL PERFORMING AND MAKING MUSIC
Now 42, De Vito lives in Sydney and still actively records and performs music gigs around Australia.
She is also a singing teacher, passing on all the lessons she has learnt over the years.
She is married to Gus De Romanis and the she gave birth to her first baby at the age of 41, a little girl the couple called Amelia in January this year.
“Out of all my friends I’m probably one of the last ones to have kids, because I married late,” she said.
“It’s really different when you are a young mum because you’ve probably got a little more energy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m very lucky that I’ve got an amazing group of beautiful, strong women who are always there for me.”
Music will always be part of her life.
“I want to keep making music,” she says.
“I’m writing at the moment. I want to release some new music in the next few months and keep performing and continue doing what I do, and just enjoy being a mum.”