I am Rikki
Young Talent Time fan Clare Atkins: I Am Rikki
In celebration of the NFSA's Young Talent Time 50th anniversary curated collection, author, television scriptwriter and Young Talent Time fan Clare Atkins shares her YTT memories in this short story.
I am Rikki
I stood at the doorway to my future. It wasn’t as grand as I’d hoped. Scratched floorboards, high ceilings, grey-white walls. Apart from the mirrors plastered down one side of the room it could’ve been a small and slightly shabby school hall.
A girl pirouetted past me in a black leotard with a blue sash, hair pulled up in an immaculate hairsprayed blonde bun. She spun effortlessly across the room then pretended to collide with her friends, collapsing in a fit of giggles. I stood alone. I self-consciously pulled my leotard out of my bum. At least it was brand new; they didn’t sell them second-hand. Mum had saved up for it, finally relenting after a year of me begging to do this class. I was determined to make sure she knew it was worth it.
‘Okay, everyone! Let’s get started!’, a stern looking woman hollered from the front of the room. Johnny Young’s assistant, I assumed. After all, this was his school.
She hit play on a tape deck and music filled the room.
A male voice crooned, ‘Get out of my dreams and into my car…’
The assistant pulled the twirling blonde girl to stand in front of me. ‘This is Catcher. Just follow her, okay?’
I carefully copied Catcher’s perfectly performed steps. I’d seen this song on the show; I watched it religiously every week trying to memorise the moves. We didn’t own a video recorder so I’d tape the shows onto cassette, the stereo carefully positioned right next to the TV to limit noise from the sprawling share house where Mum and I lived. During the week I’d listen to the show over and over until it was replaced by a new episode the next week.
The music flowed and rose and peaked, entering my heart and soul. The beat took over. I closed my eyes. I channelled Rikki. She was not much older than me; I was seven and guessed she was around nine. The youngest member of the family of my dreams. As an only child I longed for brothers and sisters – ideally ones who could dance and sing. I worshipped Dannii and Natalie – I’d even named my My Childs after them – but if I wanted to be one person on the show it was Rikki: the ridiculously cute, beloved, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, singing and dancing cherub.
I summoned the power of my Dannii Minogue-designed pastel floral overalls and my YTT board game and the hours spent choreographing routines to Bananarama and the Bangles under the pine tree at school. I could do this. I could get onto the show.
I danced with all my heart. I am Rikki. I am Rikki. I am Rikki. Feet gliding. Hips grooving. Heart soaring.
The song finished. I looked around. No one was watching. No one had seen. Catcher flopped to the floor. I saw myself reflected in the mirror behind her: brown skin, dark eyes, almost-black hair hanging messily around my shoulders.
I didn’t look like Rikki. I didn’t look like any of the YTT team. Courtney or Juanita or Joey maybe, but even that was a stretch.
Catcher looked up at me with big blue eyes. ‘You’re new, yeah?’
I nodded and smiled hesitantly back. ‘How long have you been coming?’
‘Oh three years.’ She said it casually, like she didn’t know or really care.
I was confused. ‘So … have you been on the show?’
She looked flattered. ‘You have to be, like, REALLY good to do that.’
‘But…have you met Johnny?’
She laughed outright this time. ‘As if! I wish!’
I finished the term. That was Mum’s rule: if you started an activity then you saw the term out. When she asked if I wanted to continue she looked relieved when I said no. Dance rehearsals under the pine tree gave way to practising Jump Rope for Heart. Cassettes were replaced by CDs. Dannii faded into the background while Kylie rocketed to stardom. I waved goodbye to dreams of being Rikki. ‘Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, tomorrow I’ll miss you…’
Many years later, on the dance floor at my 40th birthday party, my 11-year-old son looked around. My friends and I were having a ball; feet gliding, hips grooving, hearts soaring. He looked stunned as the realisation dawned: ‘Mum – they all dance like you.’ Until that moment he’d thought I had my own unique and spectacularly daggy dance style, but suddenly they were the moves of a whole generation.
Perhaps a little bit of YTT lives on after all.
Clare Atkins is an author and television scriptwriter. Her novels Between Us (2018) and Nona and Me (2014) have won numerous awards including the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Older Readers. She currently works as a Development Executive for the ABC across a wide range of drama and comedy television series.
Rikki Arnot sings 'My Mother's Eyes'
Relive the Razzle Dazzle
Young Talent Time's winning mix of music, dance, fun and family is on show now in the online curated collection.
Dive in and enjoy more than 35 clips spanning birthday specials, concerts and team members' first and last episodes. There's even a surprise guest appearance from Asher Keddie, who performed as a talent contestant!
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Main image: Young Talent Team members Vince Deltito, Rikki Arnot and Dannii Minogue. Courtesy: Johnny Young, Clearvoice Pty Ltd.