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A years long Australian Idol feud and the infamous gold dress: Paulini's life in the spotlight.

In 2017, Paulini Curuenavuli made front page news.

The singer, who launched to fame on the very first season of Australian Idolwas handed a six-month suspended sentence after she paid $850 to a Roads and Maritime Services employee for a fake NSW driver's licence, despite not being qualified to get behind the wheel.

It's a time that Paulini remembers as "soul-breaking".

Paulini recalls her experience on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! Post continues below.


Video via Channel 10.

"I did something really silly. I bribed a government official... I bought a fake licence," the 38-year-old told her fellow contestants on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

"I was on my Ls... And I just didn’t want to wait, so I bought a licence. It was soul-breaking and spirit-breaking because I was thinking about my family and how I made my family look, how I made myself look," she continued.

"I just made a really bad decision and I absolutely regret it. So I got a criminal record.

"I got a massive fine. I lost work, like, that whole year after."

When news broke about the incident, Paulini was working on the Australian production of The Bodyguard.

"The worst thing was... I’d just finished a show in Brisbane. I remember it clearly," she recalled. 

"I was walking back to my hotel, and I got the phone call. They said, 'Just letting you know, you’re on the front page of the paper tomorrow,'" she continued.

"It’s hard to make a mistake for someone who’s in the public eye because people are watching. You’ve got to keep going. You can’t let this break you. And that’s pretty much what I did. All of my gigs after The Bodyguard – all cancelled."

Listen to Mamamia's daily entertainment podcast, The Spill, below. Post continues after podcast.

Childhood, early career, and schoolyard bullying.

Paulini Curuenavuli was born in Suva, Fiji, on October 15, 1982.

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At four years old, Paulini and her five older siblings relocated to Sydney, where they moved into a two-bedroom apartment with their parents.

Growing up, Paulini had a passion for singing.

After performing at the Bankstown Millennium Buzz Spectacular in 2000, the Fijian-Australian won the TV talent show StarStruck in 2001.

Although Paulini was slowly growing confidence in her singing, her experience at school was challenging.

"Primary school was such an awful time for me. Just racial kind of comments and racial calling," she told singer Jack Vidgen on I'm A Celebrity, adding that she was targeted "for being black". 

"I would just get picked on every day. There was this one girl who would always kind of blame everything on me," she continued.

"She told the teacher that I had stolen her lunch. And then I remember the mother waiting for me after school.

"I don't know if I've ever really dealt with it. I don't think I have because I feel like maybe it has a lot to do with how I am now."

She also recalled another instance when someone in her class spat on her lunch.

"I was having lunch, and I was sitting on my own and basically he walked up to me and he spat on my sandwich," she said.

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"I would just get picked on every day."

After high school, Paulini became a full-time musician, joining Fijian band Mixx in early 2003.

The band performed gigs around Sydney and even travelled to Fiji to perform at the opening of the 2003 South Pacific Games.

Australian Idol, the gold dress controversy, and a 15-year feud.

After performing with Mixx for several months, Paulini stepped back from the band to audition for the first season of Australian Idol.

The intensely popular reality show featured the likes of Guy Sebastian, Shannon Noll, Cosima De Vito, and Rob Mills.

Although Paulini ultimately came fifth in the competition, the Fijian-Australian's time on the show will long be marked by the gold dress controversy.

Image: Channel 10. 

In one of the last weeks of the show, Paulini made national news after judge Ian "Dicko" Dickson criticised her outfit choice.

"You should choose more appropriate clothes or shed some pounds," he said, referring to the gold dress Paulini wore while singing 'Survivor' by Destiny's Child.

After hearing Dicko's comment, Paulini went backstage and cried.

"It affected me a lot and it really hurt my confidence," she later told Woman's Day.

In 2017, Dicko apologised to Paulini on Hot91.1’s breakfast show, Dave, Sam & Ash.

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"I cannot believe that it was 13 years ago that I said those 11 mundane words that sent the Australian media into meltdown," he said in a pre-recorded message to the singer.

"Those little cruel words that I said turned you and me into Australian reality TV’s power couple. I was trying to be nice at the time, can you believe, but I’m glad that you’ve gone on to do such great things... I'm so proud of you."

The gold dress controversy wasn't the only drama that Paulini faced on Australian Idol.

Paulini, Shannon Noll and Cosima De Vito in 2005. Image: Getty. 

Cosima De Vito, Shannon Noll, Guy Sebastian, Casey Donovan, Paulini and Anthony Callea in 2005. Image: Getty. 

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In the last weeks of the reality show, Cosima De Vito beat Paulini to make it into the top three with Shannon Noll and Guy Sebastian.

The next week, however, Cosima withdrew from the competition because of throat nodules.

In the years since, Paulini and judge Mark Holden have made several comments about Cosima, hinting at a potential feud.

"There are some people who, when you shine a light on them, they grow, and Guy was one of those. The further he went into the competition, the better he got," Mark Holden told E! Online in 2018. 

"The more light that was shone on him, he just grew like a flower. Other people, the more light you shine on them, they shrivel and crack."

Paulini agreed, adding: "I didn’t expect her to pull out at all. Just because of her personality. She’s so strong. I was like, 'Jeez, why didn’t she do it on my week!' No, only joking."

In response, Cosima shared a statement on Instagram, writing: "Paulini, it's been 15 years and you need to get over it."

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"They clearly have unresolved issues with my exit from the show," she told New Idea.

"I’ll be honest, I was quite upset and even felt a little betrayed because I thought maybe after 15 years we could all put it behind us, and I would get a bit more compassion about what I went through.

"Clearly Mark will always think that I didn’t deserve to be there, and his comments were cold." 

A new era.

After coming fourth on Australian Idol, Paulini released her debut studio album, One Determined Heart, which debuted at number one on the ARIA Albums Chart.

She later released her second studio album, Superwoman, in 2006.

Image: Getty. 

During that same year, Paulini was part of all-girl group Young Divas alongside fellow former Australian Idol contestants, Ricki-Lee Coulter, Emily Williams, and Kate DeAraugo.

The group toured together and released two albums, Young Divas and New Attitude.

After parting ways with the Young Divas in 2008, Paulini focused on song-writing, writing music for recording artists in Europe and South Africa.

In more recent years, the 38-year-old has released several singles independently, including her latest single 'Twenty Twenty'.

Feature Image: Getty.


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