Hugh Sheridan hosts the TV series I Will Survive: Priscilla.
Hugh Sheridan hosts the TV series I Will Survive: Priscilla. Contributed - Network Ten

Who will survive?

FOR 18 years Stephan Elliott has told the eager TV executives no... until now.

Ever since the Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert burst onto screens in 1994, Elliott has been approached by TV executives wanting to turn the culturally iconic film into a TV show but the time has never been right.

The film took Australia's cosmopolitan gay capital to the country's dusty, ancient heart and told the story of three drag queens in a bus nicknamed Priscilla.

He speaks with deep affection for the film but it is clear it hasn't always been an easy relationship.

"I've always said the film became my ball chain and I needed a bit of distance from it," he said.

"A lot of people got rich off it while I was still struggling to pay rent. That took a while to come to terms with.

"When the stage show came out, a decade had passed and now I'm ready to move forward again. The time felt right."

It has been revitalised as a television talent quest where host Hugh Sheridan and judges Elliott and Jason Donovan search for the best leading man, a triple threat: singer/dancer/actor.

Unlike other reality shows that use the term 'journey' to describe the contestant's time on the show, I Will Survive legitimately is a journey.

From Broken Hill to Broadway, the series begins with auditions before taking its top 12 performers on a cross-country road trip through the heart of Australia, returning to Sydney then taking its finalists to the US to perform on Broadway.

The prize includes $250,000 and US representation.

Elliott is riding high on nostalgia re-tracing the steps of the film.

"People have just come out of the woodwork that were involved in the film," he said.

"In one of the towns one guy came up to me and said 'I don't know if you remember me but I was the barman in the film'.

"When I made the film I didn't know the weight it would hold.

"It's not just about gay rights but about everyone that felt like an outsider."

He said the film's message of tolerance and story of someone average getting the chance to achieve their dream tied in perfectly with the talent show aspect.

Fellow judge Donovan, who has starred in the stage adaptation of Priscilla, said he could see a lot of himself in the young contestants who range from having professional training and experience to having none at all.

"It doesn't matter what experience you have. I don't want to call it the x-factor but you can look into someone's eyes, right into them and there's a spark there.

"You can't learn that, you are born with it," he said.

Despite the drag theatrics Donovan stressed they were not looking for a drag queen but rather a leading man - a versatile talent that could cross genres.

"It's not like any of the other talent shows," he said.

"It's about showing people dreams are possible if you have honesty and integrity."

Celebrity judges and mentors include Rachel Griffiths, Rachael Taylor, Magda Szubanski, Asher Keddie and Toni Collette.


I Will Survive - Ten - Tuesday and Wednesday at 7.30pm

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