The Voice Australia star Penelope Pettigrew speaks to the Sentinel about bisexuality, visibility and bold plans for the future, as she releases a brand new single. Interview by Corin Shearston.
“Don’t worry about fitting in, I’ve never fit in. Come join me on the outside, there’s more room to dance,” is the life philosophy of queer pop/dance singer Penelope Pettigrew.
After coming out as bisexual at 30, Pettigrew has been embraced by Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ community during a recent journey of self-discovery. Over the past two years, Pettigrew’s confidence and reputation has been boosted while she’s discovered herself in a new social circle of loving drag performers and other vibrant community members.
From making out with other girls in high school and becoming bi-curious, to exploring her feminine energy with the woman who would become her girlfriend, Pettigrew’s new identity was fully realised after she felt stuck in a relationship which forced her to suppress her sexuality. As she explains, “When I got out of that relationship, I just exploded onto the scene and had incredible experiences … I now feel so much more connected to myself as a person.”
Along with her new chosen family from the Sydney clubs, Pettigrew’s biological family is also supportive. Although her mother happens to be lesbian, Pettigrew was still nervous to come out to her, as she was concerned about how her daughter’s sexuality might impact her singing career. But after witnessing the artistic purpose her bisexuality helped foster in Pettigrew, her mother has grown incredibly supportive.
Since progressing from a “harrowing” experience of auditioning for Australian Idol as a teenager, Pettigrew unsuccessfully auditioned for The Voice Australia last year, before returning to successfully progress from the show’s Blind Auditions to the Knockouts in August this year while representing Sydney’s bisexual community.
”I feel stronger knowing that I’m standing up for someone else, rather than just standing up for myself,” she says.
In a triumphant moment for the emerging artist, Pettigrew performed a phenomenal rendition of judge Jessica Mauboy’s song ‘This Ain’t Love’ in front of Mauboy herself, who was seated next to winning coach Guy Sebastian, with Keith Urban and Rita Ora.
Appearing amongst The Voice Australia’s top 20 singers, alongside the openly gay Seann Miley Moore, Pettigrew was one of the five in ‘Team Guy’ (who blocked Mauboy from coaching her). Bella Taylor-Smith was ultimately voted winner of The Voice Australia 2021 on 12 September; a 23-year old former Hillsong singer, who was also one of Sebastian’s five.
In preparation for singing some of the angrier lyrics of ‘This Ain’t Love’, Sebastian encouraged Pettigrew to find a feeling of celebration in the song. Pettigrew now interprets the song as the story of a person rising through the ashes of a sex-based relationship like a phoenix, to emerge in a new form within a new community. This directly mirrors her story of coming out within the Sydney queer scene, after the harmful relationship with the ”fuck boy” she was seeing beforehand.
That previous relationship also inspired a new single – one she describes as a “bad bitch anthem”, fittingly named ‘FUCK BOI’. “I’m really grateful that everything happened the way it happened,” she states.
Alongside the official live recording of ‘This Ain’t Love’, Pettigrew has also released three original singles – ‘Electricity’, ‘HOLLYWOOD’ and ‘Straight Until…’. ‘FUCK BOI’, meanwhile, is due to drop on 4 November, two days before its live debut at Sydney bars Universal and ivy.
The stage at Universal is where Pettigrew first announced she was bisexual, just over a year ago. She was greeted with an eruption of applause. Despite performing in a couple of packed stadiums, Pettigrew now feels truly at home there. Over the past twelve months, she’s grown more vocal about being bisexual; something that has given more meaning to her life and art.
As a natural performer, Pettigrew has refined her powerful singing voice through playing in a covers duo for twelve years, while working as a session musician for live work and studio recordings. Her covers duo, Larger Than Lions, has had a weekly residency at Marble Bar on George Street for almost a decade. They’ve also performed at weddings and functions, even on a cruise ship.
Another aspect of Pettigrew’s entertainment career involves being on call for bands around the Sydney region, namely, groups who find themselves in the predicament of having a live performance slot with no one to take a centre microphone.
Now, Pettigrew’s position as a representative of bisexuality has opened doors to exciting new opportunities. “I’ve got my sights set on performing for Mardi Gras [in 2022], representing bisexuality,” she reveals.
As part of Bisexual Awareness Week (16-23 September; Celebrate Bisexuality Day), Penelope performed for Biconic – which she describes as “an amazing events company creating [an] incredible community for bisexuals and bi+ people”. She now hopes to perform at WorldPride, the world’s largest international pride festival, set to be held in Sydney in conjunction with the 2023 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Before the end of 2021, Penelope will also be performing at a “super exciting” (and currently confidential) performance on New Years Eve. In 2022, she’ll be releasing another solo single around late January, before Mardi Gras in March and her EP launch in May.
“I’m definitely excited to put a show together … one that is really inclusive, safe, and colourful,” she says.
Contributing to the normalisation of different sexualities within the straight white world of commercial Australian entertainment, Pettigrew encourages pride and visibility for those who aren’t heteronormative. “People have approached me because I’ve been visible,” she states.
“This has helped them to be visible, and that has inspired me beyond belief,” she says.
“We don’t have to fit into one box of attraction in order to feel normal.”
Penelope Pettigrew’s new single ‘FUCK BOI’ is released on Thursday, 4 November and will be available on iTunes, Spotify and all major download and streaming services. For more on Penelope Pettigrew, visit:
Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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