Remembering New Zealand’s Greatest Talent Shows

With Popstars returning to our screens tonight, we go back and relive some of New Zealand’s most memorable stars.

Being the country that basically invented the reality TV show, New Zealand has no shortage of memorable performers from the past 22 years of the genre. Ben Lumimis. Rosita Vai. Jackie Thomas. Handsome Monga. These names are etched in the halls of fame of reality TV, but what about those who didn’t achieve victory? Or those who couldn’t even finish their audition because Frankie Stevens was grumpy? Or those simply lost in the annals of time?

In preparation for the rebooted new season of Popstars, the show that started it all, Alex Casey and Stewart Sowman-Lund have looked back on some of our favorite auditions and performances from New Zealand’s rich archive of televised singing competitions.

Indira Stewart, “I Have Nothing” (NZ Idol, 2006)

Does New Zealand have the equivalent of a EGOT? If not, we urgently need to make one and we urgently need to give it to Indira Stewart of Breakfast for her stint on NZ Idol which took her all the way to second place. Is it even legal to be good at radio, good at TV and good at singing? The police have yet to respond to my request for comment, so in the meantime, also enjoy this divine clip of Indira singing’Have a Merry Christmas‘ just last year. I’m Matty McLean wistfully laying his head in his hands. / Alex Casey

Mitchell Wahl, “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” (X Factor NZ, 2013)

Mitchell Wahl aka Chicken Man aka New Zealand’s Tallest Person. In my mind, the real heroes of reality TV are not those who win but those who put themselves on the line, face the cruelty of the public and totally own it. Move over Siouxsie Wiles, I’d like to retrospectively crown Mitchell Wahl the New Zealander not just this year, but every year. / Stewart Sowman-Lund

Mae Valley ‘Landslide’ (X Factor NZ, 2015)

Amazing to think that without this unique Mae Valley triumph, Sam Mendes probably never would have picked up his camcorder and directed 1917. I find something new in the background of this delicately orchestrated performance each time, one involving what seems being the entire team of 4.596 million (at the time). Also, extremely funny to think of the audience in the other room staring at an empty stage for nearly two minutes. It was Valley Girls at their peak. / THAT

Ben, “My Alien” (NZ Idol, 2006)

Forget Ben’s actual singing and enjoy these out-of-context quotes from his audition:

“It’s Ben’s time.”

“I was in the bathroom and who did I run into…Frankie Stevens.”

“I wasn’t impressed in the toilets and I’m not impressed here.”

“Judges: you haven’t seen the last of Ben” *kicks in the air.*

Unfortunately, it’s been 15 years, so I think that’s most likely the last time the judges saw Ben. /SSL

Olivia Turner “I Could Have Danced All Night” (New Zealand’s Got Talent, 2012)

I could have cried all night and I intend to cry all night. Where our Idols and X Factors tended to favor the young and malleable for a top 10, New Zealand’s Got Talent has opened its arms wide to all Kiwis to shine their star. And look what happened – bloody 92-year-old legend Olivia Turner in the bloody finale. / THAT

Joe Irvine ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (X Factor New Zealand, 2015)

Joe Irvine is basically a household name, but we only know him because of this performance. You know, the one that pushed Natalia Kills into witness protection. But in his very first audition, the Willy Moon lookalike wowed the judges and New Zealand audience with possibly the most energetic karaoke rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” possible. Is it good? I don’t know, you should ask Freddie Mercury. But regardless, Irvine qualified for the next round of the competition and cemented his position in the New Zealand singing show hall of fame. / SSL

Megan Kane, ‘Sk8er Boi’ (Stars in Their Eyes, 2008)

I’m just a girl, she’s just an Avril Lavigne impersonator from Timaru, can I make that more obvious? We don’t talk about Stars in Their Eyes NZ enough, and to be honest, I could have picked any performance from the terrific joint Simon Barnett to make this hallowed list. Meatloaf. norah jones. Johnny Cash. Because every fucking time these absolute punters come out of the smoke turned into celebrities, I can’t help but gasp. Even though I’m 98% sure I know how they are doing now, I continue to be pushed around, scammed, cheated and tricked by this TV sorcery. / THAT

Chris Curtis ‘Summer of 69’ (NZ Idol, 2006)

The only comment on the YouTube video for Chris’ performance reads, “That’s my dad by the way…Chris Curtis XD.” I can’t verify it, but I hope it’s true. /SSL

Archie Hill, “Thinking Out Loud” (X Factor NZ, 2015)

The 14-year-old who stopped the nation in its tracks with his gorgeous yodeling tones, Ed Sheeran’s cover of the moment and Meet the Robinsons aesthetic. Charming young Archie even snapped King Willy Moon’s fingers, and to this day I still think of how he sings ‘plaa-haAAAN’ at the 1.45 points. And to think: it wasn’t even his first rodeo! Where is he now, who is he now, how does he sing the word “plan” now. I must know. / THAT

Sam Inder, Moulin Rouge Medley (NZ Idol, 2006)

Sam makes the bold decision to perform both the Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman parts of this song from the hit movie Moulin Rouge. The judges weren’t impressed but I guess they’ve never seen the movie, because Sam absolutely nails it. He plays McGregor better than McGregor ever could. We can probably gloss over his Kidman. Either way, resubmit it to the Academy and Moulin Rouge will win the Oscars. /SSL

Talitha Blake “Feel Good” (X Factor NZ, 2015)

There’s nothing quite like when the person on screen says the name of the show or movie they’re starring in, and Talitha Blake takes the cake for that fourth X Factor NZ wall break. I was in the room at the time and I still remember it like it was yesterday. A vengeful bird pooped on my shoulder on the way to auditions at the Skycity Theater, but all the pain and humiliation disappeared when Talitha started singing. It’s a new era. It’s a new day. It’s X FACTOOORRRR — and I feel… thrilled about our return to talent shows as a nation. / THAT


In the latest episode of Remember when…, Leonie Hayden and Mark Kelliher join host Jane Yee to relive their greatest Big Day Out moments. Subscribe and listen on Apple podcast, Spotify or your favorite podcast provider.

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