I sat up in surprise when I heard my name called from the waiting room.
"Me?" I asked.
My aunt, Michelle, looked at me and smiled cheekily.
We'd come to the Dubbo RSL so she could audition for the latest series of reality TV show, The X-Factor.
But I'd only planned on being here to support my aunt, whom I'd been performing with since I was a kid.
Learning that Michelle had sneakily put my name down to audition threw me.
Amazingly, I got through and was invited to Sydney to audition with thousands of others.
At 18, this was the last thing I'd expected.
Growing up in the tiny town of Albert, in central-west NSW, I wasn't used to so much attention.
Soon, I was on TV each week and being mentored by Mel B from the Spice Girls!
To say it was overwhelming was an understatement, but Mel was a great support.
"You've just got to believe in yourself," she reminded me. "Look how far you've come."
It was true that my new life was a long way from home.
And even after finishing second in The X-Factor and releasing my album, Life Is A Highway, I started struggling mentally.
Unless I was performing, I wouldn't leave the house because my stress and anxiety had gotten so bad.
Although my family were very supportive of all I'd achieved, I felt very alone.
Then, I noticed patches of dry skin on my elbows.
I didn't think much of it and applied some moisturiser, but by the time I was 21, it had spread across my body.
A doctor confirmed it was psoriasis – an incurable autoimmune disease that can be triggered by stress.
This made a lot of sense but I felt too embarrassed to let others know what was wrong.
So, when I went out to perform, I covered my body completely.
Even in 40-degree heat, I'd still insist on long sleeves.
Show-business was a fickle industry and I knew it could be all over if people saw what I looked like.
One time, before I was due to perform on TV, I had a meltdown.
"I can't do it," I told my record company. "I look like the Elephant Man."
Thankfully, the camera crew were careful not to film me close up, but I knew I couldn't continue like this.
On top of my whole body being covered in patches, I also had large welts across my forehead.
A dermatologist prescribed me with steroids which got rid of them, but there was a trade-off.
My skin had cleared up considerably, but the effects of the medication meant I put on 15kg.
People started trolling me on the internet over my appearance.
And it wasn't just online that I copped the abuse.
In the supermarket one day, I handed the cashier a $10 note to pay for the snack I'd just grabbed.
"I'm sorry," the cashier began, "but I can't accept that. I don't know what's on your hand."
I was speechless.
"It's just psoriasis," I explained, but the cashier wouldn't have it.
In the end, a lady behind me offered to pay for my items and I gave the money back to her.
It was infuriating to see how narrow-minded some people could be.
Around this time, I reconnected with Beccy – a friend I'd met as a teenager.
We hadn't talked for years but when she messaged me out of the blue, we started chatting regularly.
She'd stayed in the country and was working in childcare.
Over dinner, we got to know each other more.
There was something about her that made my heart swoon and we started dating.
But I had to tell her about my psoriasis.
"I don't think you realise how common it is," she smiled. "Jason, you're in the public eye – this is your chance to help people see that."
I thought about it, but I still didn't feel ready to go public with my plight.
As years went by, I appeared on Studio 10 to sing.
It was Valentine's Day so I chose The Power of Love by Celine Dion.
Once I'd finished, I pulled Beccy up onto the stage.
"You're the most beautiful person I've ever met," I said. "Will you marry me?"
To my relief, she said yes!
With Beccy's love and support, I've since shared my battle with psoriasis on my social media and received hundreds of messages of support.
I'm now in a great place and currently on tour and preparing for the release of my new album, Jason Owen Sings John Denver: The Acoustic Sessions in May.
I hope by sharing my story, it reminds others that they're not alone.
I'm lucky that I had Beccy's love and support to guide me, and I'm helping others on their journey too.
- PuzzlesTake 5 Pocket Puzzler Issue 199 Online Entry Coupon
Prizes To LoveMar 04, 2021