One of the producers said 'it's like you're in a Tom Clancy spy novel'.Axle Whitehead
Last-minute gigs are nothing new for entertainers.
But Axle Whitehead could have never predicted the following three weeks when he picked up his phone earlier this year.
The 40-year-old former Woolsthorpe resident, who now lives near Woodend, has experienced the highs and lows of the pandemic and has picked up some farm work and released a new single.
However, his stint on The Masked Singer came completely out of the blue.
"I got the call and I was asked if I could get a COVID test, jump on a plane to Sydney and sing Macho Man by the Village People in a fish suit," Whitehead said.
He didn't hesitate.
"I said 'let's do it, why not'."
Whitehead impressed the judges and his character The Mullet made it to the show's grand finale.
He said it was the most unique experience of his whole career.
"The secrecy and logistics around the show are extraordinary," Whitehead said.
He said he had no idea who the other contestants were.
The crew of about 100 had different coloured lanyards, with only about 10 having knowledge of the identity of the contestants.
"I would get picked up from my hotel in a car with dark windows and we wore this sort of Jedi suit - a big black coat with a hood on it - which I had to put on before I entered the TV studio," Whitehead said.
He would be taken to a small room and rehearsals would be completed with his head covered either by a hood or The Mullet mask. "If I needed something I had to knock on the door and the security guards would relay the message for me," Whitehead said.
Aftershave and perfume were not allowed because host Osher Gunsberg is renowned for his keen sense of smell, Whitehead said.
"It was unbelievable," Whitehead said.
"One of the producers said 'it's like you're in a Tom Clancy spy novel'."
Whitehead said he heard Anastacia, the winner of the show, rehearsing one day.
"I thought 'I know that voice but it couldn't be her'," Whitehead said.
He said he believed he was luckier than some of the other contestants with his costume because he could move his arms.
"None of us could really see or breathe much," Whitehead recalled.
He said it was a great confidence booster to be able to sing as a character.
"It was without a doubt the most unique thing I've done and probably the most fun," Whitehead said.
"You lose any inhibitions when you're inside this character."
Whitehead said it was bizarre when the judges were guessing about his identity.
He said it was a surreal feeling when Jackie O correctly identified him.
"She picked up on the jazz background and some of the US shows," Whitehead said.
He has been on her radio show with Kyle Sandilands over the years.
Whitehead has also had past dealings with two of the other judges.
He co-hosted a Video Hits special with Danni Minogue in London some years back, and he and Dave Hughes are both from Warrnambool and are both Carlton supporters.
The only person Whitehead told about his gig, which required him to stay in a Sydney motel room for close to a month, was his partner Liezl Carstens.
The two met while Whitehead was working in the US.
They now live together near Woodend with their two whippets Goose and Ziggy.
Whitehead said the coronavirus pandemic had made times very tough for performers.
He has just released a single, which he describes as soul country, titled One Gun.
Whitehead said it was "probably the most honest song I've ever written".
He wrote it while he was a character on Home and Away about 10 years ago.
Whitehead said the song was about a man who was searching for reminiscing about where he had come from while contemplating an uncertain future.
"It's interesting that it's come out now because the first line is 'I'm a stranger living in a strange world'."
Whitehead said his contract with Home and Away was coming to an end and he was probably contemplating what the future would hold.
He ultimately headed to the US and was delighted to pick up roles on television shows Shameless and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
On that show he played a superhero named Hellfire.
"Working on a US production with a US budget was extraordinary," Whitehead said.
"You get your own trailer and they treat you like a bloody king."
However, Whitehead returned to Australia to undergo back surgery.
He hopes to return to the US one day but for now he is working on more music and has a number of auditions lined up.
"I plan to head back at some point but I don't know what the industry is going to look like," he said.
Whitehead said he was extremely proud of his new single.
"I've never been prouder of any music I've released," he said.
However, he said it was a different world for musicians.
"There's very few physical sales, it's all streamed now," he said.
"The industry has changed so much."
Whitehead said he was desperate to get back to playing live gigs.
"I'm ready to get back into it," he said.
"To play to full venues to people who appreciate the music."
Whitehead said he missed the feeling of connection with crowds when playing.
"I cannot wait to get back out there and play," he said.
Whitehead said he missed living in the south-west.
However, it's easier for him to travel to Melbourne from where he lives now.
Whitehead said he would love to play a live gig in the south-west before the end of the year if COVID rules permit it.
"I'm really keen - I will play on any street corner," he laughed.
Whitehead got his big break when he appeared on Australian Idol's first series in 2003.
He went on to host Video Hits and his debut single I Don't Do Surprises debuted at number eight on the ARIA charts in 2008.
Whitehead had minor parts on television show The Secret Life of Us and movie Ned Kelly before he was cast as Liam Murphy on Home and Away.
He said the Home and Away set was a "great training ground".
Whitehead said his parents Jennifer and Robert loved watching The Masked Singer.
"I don't think it was quite my dad's cup of tea, but they were very proud," he said.