J.D. Fortune went from living in a car to fronting INXS


By Steve Newton

This time last year, few people knew the name of Canadian rock vocalist J.D. Fortune. A lot of them were familiar with INXS, but at that stage in the group’s career–eight years after the death by apparent suicide of its enigmatic frontman Michael Hutchence–they wouldn’t have equated it with instantly sold-out concerts and top-selling albums.

Reality TV changed all that.

After Fortune beat out 14 competitors in 2005’s Rock Star: INXS series, earning the right to take Hutchence’s place behind the mike, the Aussie sextet suddenly got huge again. Their show at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Wednesday (January 18) sold out in five minutes, and the CD Fortune made with them, Switch, has already moved well over a million copies since its late-November release.

So who is this J.D. Fortune fellow, anyway? Turns out he’s a single 31-year-old who was born Jason Dean Bennison and grew up in the tiny town of Salt Spring, Nova Scotia. He’s been in bands-though none you’ve likely heard of–since he was 13. In the mid-’90s, he put his musical endeavours on hold and took a shot at acting, moving to Kitsilano for three months and unsuccessfully auditioning for roles in The X-Files and Millennium. As he relates on the line from 102-degree, “fucking boiling” Sydney, Australia–where he spent Christmas with his new bandmates and their families–Fortune was living out of his auto when he heard about the auditions for Rock Star: INXS.

“I was literally, like, sleepin’ in my car,” he recalls, “and when this advertisement came on the radio, something inside of me just went, ‘This is what you’re gonna do for the rest of your life.’ It was really, really bizarre.”

Fortune’s premonition wasn’t all that cosmic, though. He’d been singing since he was five, had developed a powerful stage presence over the years, and was determined to make his mark in the world of rock. “That’s pretty much what I’ve always wanted to do,” he contends. “Obviously, I didn’t have any success until last year, but every job that I’ve ever had, or every career that I thought I was gonna embark on, it always failed to satisfy me the way the music did.”

Fortunately for Fortune, a few years ago INXS guitarist-saxophonist Kirk Pengilly came up with the idea of having a televised global search to help his group find a replacement for Hutchence. The band eventually approached reality-TV guru Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice), and in 2005 the game was on.

Fortune sang about 20 songs during the course of the show, including Pink Floyd’s “Money”, the Box Tops’ “The Letter”, and the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreaming”, all of which appear on the recently released Rock Star: INXS DVD. At one point the series featured a songwriting clinic, wherein each participant had to compose a melody and lyrics over existing music.

Building on bed tracks provided by INXS keyboardist-guitarist Andrew Farriss, Fortune came up with “Pretty Vegas”, and looking back, he cites his live performance of that tune–the hit leadoff single from Switch–as a turning point in his favour.

Fortune’s days of living in cars are officially over–“Now it’s just tour buses and airplanes”–but the immense boost dealt by the TV show isn’t forever. Now that INXS has been given a new lease on life, it’s on its own.

“I signed a contract for the show,” reveals Fortune, “but what happens now that I’m in the band is all the contracts are null and void. That was one of the perks of winning: the only thing I’m obligated to is INXS. So whether we do another two records or another five records, it’s gonna be about us, it won’t have anything to do with Rock Star: INXS.”

For the time being, Fortune and his Aussie mates plan to ride that reality-TV rocket till the engine sputters. But he’s convinced that INXS’s current popularity is due to a combination of the show, the band’s past successes-it has sold more than 30 million units, after all-and its new material. It also doesn’t hurt that the group was the real deal to begin with. “People are attracted to something that’s honest and genuine,” he says, “and that’s what the show provided and that’s what the record provides and that’s what this band has always been. It’s just genuine. There’s no hoopla.”

in + out

J.D. Fortune sounds off on the things enquiring minds want to know.

On which Rock Star: INXS contestant he felt was his was biggest competition: “I’d have to say at one point I thought Suzie McNeil had a really good shot, but I think what ultimately happened is-not to sound chauvinistic, but I don’t think I would have bought an INXS CD if there was a female on it. If a song’s written from a male perspective about sex, it’s almost uncomfortable to have a woman singing it. I wouldn’t go audition for TLC, you know what I mean?”

On how he handled the constant pressure of competing on a reality-TV series: “Jim Morrison said, ‘You never know when it’s gonna be your last performance.’ So I went on-stage and just gave it everything I had, every time, all the time.”

On what it’s like to be in a band that has always included three brothers: “That says a lot. I know family members that can’t even sit in the same room with each other, let alone be in a band for 30 years.”

On whether he feels other recording acts in need of new members will go the reality-TV route: “I hope so, because there’s some bands that I’d love to see live with the right frontperson. The Clash, a couple of other bands. You know, I thought it might be a good idea to have David Lee Roth audition for Van Halen again on a reality show.”

Leave a Reply