Jessica Mauboy: Brand New Woman

When Themeli Magripilis first met Jessica Mauboy, he had no idea who she was. Seven months later, at the Aug. 8 world premiere of her film Bran Nue Dae, in Melbourne, there was no doubt he was dating a star. The 2006 Australian Idol luminary strutted the red carpet, performed some tunes and, memorably, sat through her first screen kiss — with her squirming beau by her side.

"He covered his eyes and said, 'What is this?' then laughed," says Mauboy, luminous in a floaty maxi dress and bare feet as she chatted to WHO about the feelgood musical at Melbourne's Crown Towers on Jan. 8. "He said, 'Oh, no!' But he got over it."

Magripilis, 20, will have to get used to her as public property, but it shouldn't take long. "He is not impressed by the celebrity thing," says Mauboy, 20, who met the Greek builder on a night out in her home town, Darwin. "That made me more attracted to him. He liked me. He is in a totally different world - he's a working-class man, so when I get to go home, it's not about putting on sexy clothes and makeup. It's about hanging out, watching a DVD, going to the movies or beach."

The former Young Divas member says their relationship is based on mutual respect: "At the beginning I had a lot of guys coming up to me, but this was different because I made the first move! I had seen him around Darwin but didn't know him. My dad knew his family."

For Mauboy, who has bought a flat in Sydney (her man will stay in Darwin), the family connection is important. "The Greek culture is great. It's about food and family and celebrations — similar to my family's culture. It just feels so right to be with him. It's a real trust, real friendship. I am spending February and March in LA. He tells me he is going to miss me so much but he can handle it. He lets me do what I need to."

In Los Angeles, Mauboy will record the follow-up to her 2009 album, Been Waiting, which last year landed her seven ARIA nominations, and the highest-selling single gong for "Running Back." "A lot of people said they were disappointed," says Mauboy. "But for me to be there, perform and grab one of those ARIAs was massive."

She is also weighing up a career sidestep into a TV series: "The script sounds great but I'm undecided. I don't want to spread myself too thin or work myself too hard!"

Mauboy's parents - dad Ferdie is Indonesian and mum Theresa is an Indigenous Australian - raised the singer and her four sisters on rowdy family get-togethers: "We turn on the country-and-western music in the backyard, cook up a barbie and have a jam, a laugh, dance around. That's how I've been brought up. Every day should be celebrated and enjoyed."

Which is why Mauboy, who as a child would pretend she was Maria from The Sound of Music, knew Bran Nue Dae was the right role for her. "The music was what I grew up with, being around the elders, Grandad and Grandma, singing. I played Snow White at primary school when my friends and I wrote our own version. We called it Snow Black and the Seven Dwarfs."

Today, when performing, she's a sex kitten with a feisty stage persona (not unlike Beyonce, whom she supported on her Australian tour in September). However, she still has a more reserved side. "Jess is more of a quiet person ... I love writing in my diary about how I feel, dealing with different issues," she says, but "Jessica Mauboy is stronger, more assertive."

Now, the rising star is happiest making her own image and music choices. "It has been difficult at times - there's a lot of pressure having everyone watch you." At least that first screen smooch is out of the way.

Reported by Sarah Marinos