A ready access to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll was the off-screen reality of music television show Australian Idol, according to a Vietnamese star of the Channel 10 program.

Thanh Bui, who was in the final eight of the 2008 series, told The West Australian that while his experience on the show helped shape his musical life, the availability of anti-social lures for those involved in the program had been confronting.

Former Australian Idol finalist Thanh Bui and his students at his Soul Music Academy in Ho Chi Minh City. Picture: Steve Butler/The West Australian

“It was sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll all the way through,” Bui, who has performed corporate gigs for Perth’s Vietnamese community, said from his Soul Music Academy in Ho Chi Minh City.

“It was like, during the week of Idol, how many days in the week could you block out to get completely fu...d up. It was grog, it was sex, it was everything.

“I couldn’t fit in, absolutely couldn’t fit in and it absolutely wasn’t what I was there for. I absolutely hated it and when I look back at it, it still gives me chills. But it was the best thing that could have ever happened and I owe a lot to Australia.”

Channel 10 declined to comment on the allegations.

Bui said the show helped him to grow up and also forged in him a vulnerability that would prove important for his musical progression. His sublime rendition of Abba’s Winner Takes It All during the series also gave him significant confidence and he admitted the program had boosted his profile in Vietnam, as well as among the country’s ex-pats in the United States.

The Adelaide-born singer’s parents fled from the south of Vietnam to a Malaysian refugee camp, which would be their home for six months, and eventually made it to Australia. He said medical records suggested he was conceived on the day his parents landed in Melbourne and he was born nine months and 10 days later.

Growing up, he worked for his family’s textiles business earning one cent for every jeans back pocket he could make after school each day. Sometimes he would sew 100 in an afternoon and head to the local milk bar for 100 jelly beans.

Bui’s parents showed disdain for his musical hopes in life until his father had a dream where he saw music notes. He then succumbed to what his son described as a particularly superstitious nature and put him into the Johnny Young Talent School, with fellow vocalist Anthony Callea as a classmate.

After losing 20kg, having his teeth straightened and his eyesight corrected with laser surgery, he joined boy band North, which proved a success across Asia before they split in 2006. He moved to Vietnam permanently on January 1, 2012 to start his multi-faceted arts academy, which is educating 315 children.

Bui, once one of only two Asians at his Melbourne primary school, said he had spent much of his young life trying to “fit in”. But he is now a significant star in his family’s homeland after being part of the recent television hit, Vietnam Voice and plans to travel to London next month to record a new album, a deeply personal collection of songs which is likely to be titled Rumour.

He believes it will bring him the international music standing he has long craved and become an even stronger role model for his students.

“My whole passion now is seeing my (academy) kids – the next generation – really do something and be open and accept the world and cross borders,” he said.

“I want to do it for the kids here who are all so talented and want to get out, they are also so afraid. For them to travel on a Vietnamese passport is so difficult so some of them can’t even see past their own district.

“My job now is to get out, break it, make it and come back and say, ‘Kids, this is all possible’. I love it and I dig that every day. Nothing is too hard, anything is possible.”

The West Australian

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