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Mathison was born in Sydney, New South Wales and grew up in the northern Sydney suburb of Frenchs Forest. He attended St. Augustine's College, in Brookvale. After leaving school, he worked in various jobs, including working in a warehouse for a mail-order company and as a cashier at a service station, before spending a year on exchange in South America.
In 2001, Mathison was a contestant on the Channel Ten reality TV show The $20 Challenge, during which he was shown busking on the streets of London for extra money. He achieved second place in the contest. Weeks after returning from London, he auditioned for pay-TV channel Channel [V]'s new reporter search. After making it through to the final 8, he was offered a job there as video journalist.
In 2003, Mathison was appointed co-host of Australian Idol alongside Channel [V] host Andrew Günsberg. They created a behind-the-scenes show for Channel [V] called Australian Idol Extra for the second and third seasons of the programme. On 31 March 2009, after six years with Australian Idol, it was announced Mathison had quit as co-host.
In 2005 and 2006, James hosted the ARIA Music Awards. In 2007, James, along with Hamish and Andy, hosted the ARIA Red Carpet segment. He also made a brief cameo appearance on the Australian feature film BoyTown in the ARIA's scene playing himself alongside Ella Hooper. In June 2009, Network Ten announced that James would be a reporter and panelist on The 7pm Project covering media and sport alongside, Charlie Pickering, Carrie Bickmore and Dave Hughes. In July 2012, Mathison joined Weekend Sunrise where he replaced Jonathan Coleman as a movie reviewer.
In July 2013, Network Ten announced Mathison would be presenter of its new breakfast program Wake Up alongside Natarsha Belling, Natasha Exelby and Nuala Hafner until the show was cancelled in May 2014.
On 28 May 2016, Mathison announced that he would contest the 2016 federal election as an independent candidate for the federal seat of Warringah. The seat was held by Tony Abbott, a member of the Liberal Party and a former Prime Minister. Mathison received 11.4% of the primary vote. In 2018, Mathison joined the Australian Democrats as communications director.
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- Moran, Jonathon (10 May 2009). "James Mathison on quitting Australian Idol and Nova radio". The Sunday Telegraph. Australia.
- "Higgins leads ARIA awards nominee list". ABC News. 14 September 2005. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
- Knox, David (12 October 2007). "Rove returns as ARIAs host". TV Tonight. Archived from the original on 31 October 2007. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
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- Boud, Daniel (7 March 2007). "Big Day Out Sydney 2007". Boudist. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
- Gene (25 November 2006). "The beats continue at the Lorne Falls Festival". The Dwarf. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
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- Levy, Megan (28 May 2016). "Election 2016: Australian Idol host James Mathison to challenge Tony Abbott in Warringah". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
- Warringah, NSW, Virtual Tally Room 2016, Australian Electoral Commission.
- Chan, Gabrielle (10 November 2018). "Alex Turnbull would fund moderate independents to fight Abbott and Joyce". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2 July 2019.