By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr.
On a cold rainy night in 2004 Jason Dean Bennison was living in his broken down 1989 Nissan Sentra under the Cherry Beach Bridge in Toronto. He was listening to the radio when an announcement came on about a new reality TV show called Rock Star: INXS.
But just as the details of the audition was broadcast the battery died in his car. Bennison, who now goes by the name of JD Fortune, called his mom and asked her for $400. “I was living in the car with my black pug, Presley. I knew that I needed to change my life and I decided right there that I was going to win that contest,” said Fortune.
His mom lent him the money, the battery was fixed and Fortune and Presley drove to the audition. INXS is an Australian band who had a string of hits in the 1980s and 1990s. Its former lead singer Michael Hutchence had passed away. Mark Burnett, the genius behind all the popular CBS reality TV shows, came up with Rock Star: INXS.
Over 52,000 contestants worldwide auditioned for the show. In Canada, thousands showed up for the two-day auditions. “Presley and I stayed in the car which was parked in the lot outside the studio,” said Fortune. “My first day of auditions was terrible. I completely sucked. I sang ‘New Sensation’ and was just horrible.”
As Fortune was walking off after bombing, he turned to the judges and asked them if they ever had a bad day? He then explained that he could do much better and asked that they give him a second opportunity.
“They believed in me and gave me that second chance.” The following day Fortune performed “Never Tear Us Apart” and had one of the INXS band members playing guitar. “I nailed it and blew them away,” said Fortune. He was also the only contestant to sing with a band member during the auditions.
Five months later, still living in his Nissan with Presley, Fortune received notice that he was one of the 500 hopefuls that would perform in Los Angeles on the TV show. Fortune drove the car and dog to his mom’s house and then boarded a plane for LA to live the dream.
Rock Star: INXS was a four-month reality show that started off with 500 contestants which was narrowed down to 15. During that time the show paid for all travel, hotel and living expenses for the singers.
“It was unbelievable, from living in a car to living the dream overnight. The only rule was we couldn’t tell anyone about the show,” said Fortune.
Near the end of the show each contestant had to write and perform an original song. “I wrote Pretty Vegas in about six minutes and it was the song that made me a winner,” said Fortune. In September of 2005, CBS announced that JD Fortune was the new lead singer with INXS and off to the studio he went.
In November INXS released Switch, which featured Fortune on lead vocals. Pretty Vegas was the highest debuting single in the history of INXS, and the band then went on a worldwide tour.
“I went from being uncomfortable in a Nissan to living very comfortably, flying around the world on private jets,” said Fortune. The first thing he did with his new paycheck was pay off his mother’s mortgage and all his sister’s student loans. He then purchased the land his grandfather’s house once stood on. “Family is so important to me, and I wanted to show them how much they meant to me.”
Fortune actually made his first big hit in the music industry when he was 5 years old. His mother, whose maiden is Fortune, was divorced and a member of a group called Parents Without Partners. They were holding a dance one night and the young rocker sang “Heart Break Hotel.”
Over the years he learned how to play guitar and piano and then started writing his own music when he was 13 years old. “I wrote a song called Tonight I’ll Stay, it was for Karen Anderson, she was an older woman who I was attempting to woo,” said Fortune. The song was good, but the desired reaction from Anderson was not achieved.
During his teens he was a member of several typical garage bands and then joined the Canadian Army in 1995. “I spent three years in the military and had to sneak back on base during those years,” said Fortune. Canada has an open base policy, however at night the base gets locked down and that’s when Fortune had to sneak in after performing at clubs during the evening hours.
The first 22 months with J.D. as the lead singer of INXS the band sold 4.5 million tickets. “We were doing stadium shows in front of thousands of fans, it was what I had always dreamed of doing,” said Fortune. He spent six years with the band, writing and taking center stage as the main man. They performed at the Grammys, the Olympics in Canada and just about every country on the planet.
In August of 2011, INXS had just finished a huge show in Los Angeles with Fortune as the lead singer. “I had my mom, sister and brother at the show. Everyone in the band and organization was extremely nice to my family,” said Fortune.
Two days later he was checking the internet to see the reviews of the latest show. That is when he discovered that he was no longer a member of the band.
“They had removed my name, photos and everything about me from the bands website. It was as if I never existed,” said Fortune. To this day not a single band member or representative of the organization has contacted him to say why he was no longer part of the group.
Several rumors started circulating that Fortune had become involved with drugs and had to attend rehab. “Those are rumors; I have never had a substance abuse problem. I have my ideas why they let me go, but let’s just say sometimes it’s not good when you meet your idols.”
As one door closed, a new stage door has opened for the talented musician. He is a gifted song writer who has several songs being used on TV shows such as Criminal Minds. He has also learned a valuable lesson about the music industry, trust nobody. That is why he is now in control of his new band, Fortune, which is made up of young Canadian artists that have his same energy and career goals.
On July 10, Fortune and his new band will be performing live at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. “It is such an iconic venue and I love the Jersey Shore,” said Fortune. His new music reflects his time with INXS, as one song is called Tension.