Cape Town - When Heinz Winckler won season one of Idols SA in 2002, he was a 24-year-old student, who had never flown in an aeroplane, 17 years later he is a renowned musician who placed fifth at World Idol and played the lead role in an international production of Rent.
Speaking to Channel24 about how winning Idols so many years ago has impacted his life now, Heinz says: "Idols SA was the start of my professional music career and ultimately changed the course of my life."
Thinking back to when he entered the reality singing competition, he says that fame was never a motivating factor. Instead, he was chasing the dream of being able to make music for a living and score a record deal.
"My first time on a plane was from Cape Town to Johannesburg to take part in the Idols top 100 auditions. And my first-ever international flight was to London to take part in World Idol."
Over a decade later, he has been privileged to travel the world, including Mauritius, Italy and Nashville, with Hawaii and the Maldives still on his bucket list.
About the fame that came with the career choice, he says: "Fame is nice, yes, at times. But it also comes at a price, and if you aren't careful, it can go to your head. It did with me for a while, but thanks to my family, good friends and my faith convictions, I was able to weather the storm."
Winning Idols opened many doors for Heinz, including placing fifth at World Idol, beating out Will Young, and opening for Westlife during their 2005 tour.
Not only is Heinz, who was known as 'Hunky Heinz' while on the singing reality show, a talented singer, he is also an accomplished actor having toured the US, Canada, and Japan with the cast of Rent, portraying the lead role of Roger Davis.
"It was quite an adventure touring together on a bus for nine months. It was amazing," he laughs.
Now, a husband and dad of three young boys, Heinz's life looks vastly different from when he first started in the entertainment industry.
About being a dad, he says: "I love watching these little people grow up in front of us. They have a little bit of my wife and me in them, but at the same time, they're unique. I also really enjoy learning more about the father heart of God by being a father myself. The number of times I had said something to my kids like: 'Don't do that. You can die, trust me.' Only to hear this still small voice in my spirit saying: 'Yes, do you get it now?' It's amazing."
As a family, they enjoy spending time outdoors, especially going to the beach: "I feel very close to God when I'm in the ocean."
But his life took a turn at the end of 2013 when he says he started his "faith journey" with his family.
"A series of significant decisions, we made out of faith, that did not make sense, lead us to move to Cape Town, leave my label, refurbish a house and during all that, make a move from commercial music to Christian music."
He says it wasn't a quick or an easy decision, but he had different people in his life speak it into existence.
"Eight different people over four months said the exact the same thing independent of each other, and I had to pay attention.
"Some family, some friends, and some total strangers all said the same thing: 'Heinz, I believe God is saying that you will have a ministry similar to that of Michael W Smith'.
"When I heard this, I didn't think I would suddenly start playing the piano, but what I experienced was a firm conviction in my spirit that I would make Christian music that would inspire people and lead them closer to God, and that it will be for an international audience.
"I received the eighth word while in Isreal, as a worship leader for a tour group. After speaking with my wife and praying together, it became clear that I needed to make a shift to Christian music."
The following day he went to speak to his pastor, who encouraged him to talk to Tree63 basest Daniel Ornellas, who is also a producer and now resides in Nashville, US.
He says: "I told my pastor that it was an excellent idea, but I barely had enough money to make an album in rands, let alone in dollars. But my pastor was adamant."
He listened and had a Skype conversation with Daniel, who said his best deal would be $2000 a song.
"That turned out to be about R400 000 for ten songs. About double what it would cost to produce in South Africa. I had R100 000 from crowdfunding. We prayed, and we trusted. God miraculously provided the other R300 000 through unsuspecting ways. By being obedient in two other things I felt God lead me to do, he made way for two people to give R150 000 each toward the making of the album. It was unreal."
He started the project in 2016 and launched in September 2019, now Heinz is in full-time ministry and loving it!
Heinz is currently working on a new album and says he is very excited about it. "I am once again going to work with Daniel Ornellas who produced my first Christian album, The Roar, and also the single I did with Loyiso Bala and Neville D last year, It's Time."
He is raising funds to produce his album through a crowdfunding campaign here.
Heinz hopes to get the whole project funded and do a full album before the end of 2019.
WATCH HEINZ INTRODUCE HIS NEW ALBUM AND TALK ABOUT THE HEART BEHIND IT HERE: