She’s the 10-year-old singing star from Dapto who has become the face of the National Rugby League’s revamped television commercial. And in the end, it was simply a case of right place, right time.
Early last month, Aliyah McGuinness tagged along with her family as older brother Cruz auditioned for a part in the new Simply the Best campaign.
But by the time the final edit was done, it was Aliyah who stole the show. The McGuinness family got word of her beefed up role a week ago, but even they were shocked when they were sent a copy yesterday.
“I was at work when it got sent through and then I had to go into a meeting so I couldn’t even watch it straight away. Then when I finally got to see it I was just so proud. I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes,” Aliyah’s mother Kim said.
“Then in the afternoon my youngest son Taj had his Oz-Tag grand final on so we went to that and she stood on the sideline and watched it. I couldn’t wait to see her reaction. She just stood there with her eyes wide open, stunned and just so happy.”
30 years after the original version became the game’s powerful marketing anthem, the NRL has re-jigged it with a very contemporary touch.
And with some lateral thinking and some spontaneity in production, Aliyah has emerged as its breakout star.
“They are two very different versions. The previous one was a symbol of the game at the time, but this one represents inclusion which I absolutely love,” Kim said.
“There is so much more in the 2020 version. It highlights what we are all about today, what’s to come and what the future is.”
In the new version, the ad cuts to an inspiring shot of Souths star Latrell Mitchell standing in shallow water, looking out to sea. He’s draped in the Aboriginal flag. The iconic Tina Turner anthem shifts to the angelic harmony of Aliyah singing the song’s chorus acapella.
It’s a young Aboriginal girl singing an old song in a game accessible to all – regardless of age, gender, culture or persuasion. In so many ways, it’s everything the 1990 version wasn’t.
“It’s just amazing. It feels so much more inclusive. I am so proud of what the NRL has done with this campaign. Not just for Aboriginal people. But they are really playing their part in changing the stigma around Indigenous culture,” Kim said.
“Her Dad and I have brought her up to be strong, be proud and taught her about everything she has to be proud of. We teach her about who she is representing and to be inclusive of everyone. I know that one day when she can better appreciate what this all means, she will look back and be so proud of herself.”
How it came about is a story in itself. Aliyah and her two brothers were nominated to be part of the commercial after Kim saw an ad online.
They attended the first-round of auditions in Redfern in late January, but while her two brothers made the initial cut, Aliyah missed out. Ironically, at that screening session, with the Rabbitohs training next door, they did manage to grab a photo with their favorite player – Latrell Mitchell.
By the time the shoot rolled around a week or so later, Kim had been told 8-year-old Taj was no longer required. Still, families being families, the whole McGuinness crew turned up to support Cruz.
“There were about 10 kids and they were playing some touch footy on the beach but the producer wasn’t all that happy with how it was going so he asked if anyone could sing. They asked Cruz to sing the chorus. Then he asked if there were any girls who could sing. Aliyah heard this and put her hand up so she got called over to have a go,” Kim said.
“It was quite early in the morning and quite overcast. Still a bit dark and it was raining a little bit. I could see what was happening from a distance but we still didn’t quite know how it would all tie together. We certainly didn’t think it would turn out as it did.”
Little did the producer know at the time, they had a family of talented vocalists in front of them.
The McGuinness siblings are members of the Southern Lights Vocal Academy in Dapto and have performed in front of large crowds in local music productions, eisteddfods and Christmas Carols events.
And, they just so happened to know the words to Tina Turner’s Simply the Best.
“That’s my fault,” Kim laughed. “My playlist is a lot of the old songs from that era and we have sing-a-longs in the car, so the kids hear them a lot and know them well. It’s not unusual for us to have Friday night karaoke nights at home and Simply the Best would be one of the songs.”
“We’re a musical family who loves our rugby league. Aliyah’s dad (Richard McGuinness) played first-grade for the Corrimal Cougars for a long time so footy is in our blood. So, it’s a good fit all round really.”
Richard is a cousin of Kevin and Ken McGuinness who both enjoyed long and successful careers in the NRL.