‘It Was Like Religion For Me’: Toni Pearen Is Living Her Dream Hosting Young Talent Time Unmasked

The iconic, much-loved tv show, Young Talent Time first burst onto our screens 50 years ago, bringing the stage, iconic ‘70s and ‘80s fashion and childhood crushes into Aussie homes every Saturday evening for 18 years.

It launched some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, such as Tina Arena, Dannii Minogue, Jamie Redfern and Jane Scali, and showcased over 800 episodes.

To celebrate this ‘70s and ‘80s legacy, Channel 10 has created Young Talent Time Unmasked, which will re-live all the giddy highs, the backstage drama and heartbreak, and celebrate the moments that turned its young stars into household names.

Toni Pearen has been a huge fan of the show for as long as she can remember and has finally lived out her childhood dream by joining the Young Talent Time Team as host of the reunion special.

“Watching Young Talent Time was like religion for me growing up. Every Saturday night, I would make my brother sit and watch it with me, and then I would tape it so I could watch the re-run on Sunday,” Toni told 10 play.

"It was basically my entire childhood, because the show went to air in ’71 and I was born in ‘72.”

Receiving the opportunity to host the reunion special was surreal and something she never expected to happen.

“I am still pinching myself. I remember when I got the call… I told my brother and he just laughed for the next five minutes because he’s lived my love of Young Talent Time. I feel like the planets are aligned in a way I'd never imagined,” she laughed.

Growing up, Toni desperately wanted to be a part of Young Talent Time, admitting that she begged her parents to move to Melbourne so she could audition. But of course, every time she asked, they immediately said no, “Like it was never even a discussion.”

“If I had told my 12-year-old self, sitting in front of the television, that one day I would be hosting the 50-year reunion of Young Talent Time… I mean, life is just fascinating, and you can never give up hope.”

Audiences can expect everything they loved about the original show to shine through in this special.

“Lots of great ‘80s fashion, lots of big hair, lots of mullets, lots of good dance routines and songs we haven't heard in a really long time. Dannii and Tina sitting in a room together, talking about their upbringing and what it was like to be on Young Talent Time and their memories… It’s going to be good fun.

“But there’s also a few heart-breaking stories, like what happened to Juanita Coco. She unfortunately died in a car accident. We spoke about that and pay respects to her. And I think it's very timely that we're celebrating the 50 years, and I really think the show should absolutely get the credit it deserves.”

One of the most exciting parts of hosting the show for Toni was being able to “speak the names and see all the faces” she idolised while growing up.

“I was always singing and dancing, that was the world that I wanted to live in. I idolise these people so seeing Dannii, Tina, Devin, Joey and Courtney, there’s such a familiarity with them that it almost feels like I know them - which I don't, but I am a true fan. So, it was surreal. It's still surreal.”

But looking back, there is one thing which stands out to her that really shows just how old the show really is.

“The fashion is so funny. That was fashion to me, Young Talent Time was the epitome of fashion. And I based my whole wardrobe on what Young Talent Time or what Dannii wore that week. And now looking back, it really is a period of our lives that we can repeat. It's definitely a special time of our lives.”

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the world at the moment, Toni doesn’t interview the original cast herself, but they did record a big, juicy interview with Tina Arena, Dannii Minogue, and Johnny Young where they speak about the show and the past.

“The mere fact that Channel 10 and the people involved could pull this off was just incredible. I think it's what we all need right now, we need relief and an opportunity to smile and forget the world for a minute and to see how far we've come. The last two years, it's been full of ups and downs, and then you get a little gem like this.”

Young Talent Time wasn’t just a show, but it created a sense of community amongst all its viewers, giving everyone an individual experiences and memories, which they still cherish today.

“Everyone's got their own story... All of my girlfriends are married with kids and one of my girlfriends the other day admitted that she was convinced she was marrying Bevin and she used to write to him and tell him,” she laughed.

“I think Young Talent Time was our first crushes, because they were all of a similar age and we could relate to all of them. I never expected to get such an intense response from people of how everyone's got their memories and they are all really fond memories, which is just so sweet.”

Even Toni had a major fan-girl moment when she shared one of her “most prized possessions” with the producer.

“I still have the Christmas card that Dannii Minogue wrote to me in 1984. I sent the producer a photo of it, I don't think she could believe. If my house was on fire, I’d grab it. When they were doing the reunion of Johnny, Tina and Dannii, they asked her if she remembered writing my letter. Unfortunately, she said no… I’m not taking it personally,” she laughed.

The reunion special isn’t just giving the generation who loved watching it an opportunity to re-live the past, but its giving the newer generation a chance to understand, watch and experience it for themselves.

“With my own kids, it’ll be good to see their reaction because when I spoke to my son about my new hosting role, and I had to explain what Young Talent Time was, I could just see him thinking mum, you've lost your mind.

“I think that's what is so fantastic about music and pop culture - there's always a time in the next generations life where it gets relived, and they start to have a new appreciation for it. You never know, Young Talent Time could come back.”

Watch young Talent Time on Sunday Sep 26, 8.30pm on 10 and 10 Play on demand