Megan Alatini’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)
Megan Alatini’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)

Pop CultureApril 27, 2024

‘I don’t know if we were brave or stupid’: Megan Alatini on changing reality TV

Megan Alatini’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)
Megan Alatini’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)

Megan Alatini takes us through her life in TV, including ‘terrible’ daytime TV, the class of Carol Hirschfeld and her most embarrassing TrueBliss moment. 

When she responded to a vague newspaper ad asking “do you have what it takes to be a popstar?” 25 years ago, Megan Alatini never guessed she was on track to become a part of the biggest local girl group of the early 2000s, and change the face of reality television for decades. “We really were guinea pigs for what was to be a world phenomenon,” she says of TrueBliss and Popstars. “I don’t know if we were brave or stupid – probably both.” 

Following TrueBliss’s meteoric rise at the turn of the millennium, Alatini went on to appear in post-apocalyptic teen drama The Tribe, as a judge on New Zealand Idol, a contestant on Dancing With the Stars NZ, and most recently a castaway on Celebrity Treasure Island NZ. “I have so much gratitude for being a part of something that thrust us into New Zealand living rooms, and put us into an experimental concept that went global,” she says. 

A TrueBliss promo from 199. Image: Aaron Hailwood

Even given all “the good, the bad and the ugly” experiences that came with the Popstars rollercoaster, Alatini has no regrets. “If you were to ask me if I would put my hand up for it again, I would absolutely say yes,” she says. “I know that reality television is one of those things that people love to hate and hate to love, but we really did change the face of music and television and it’s something New Zealand should be proud of.” 

While admitting that she’s now a bit more “long in the tooth and grey in the hairline”, Alatini was happy to reminisce on her life on Popstars and beyond, including the endless class of Carol Hirschfeld, the power of Jerry Springer and the NZ Idol critique she wishes she could take back. 

My earliest TV memory is… Saturday mornings watching Fraggle Rock and Friday night in front of the telly with fish and chips, when mum and dad could afford it, watching shows like MacGyver and The A Team. And if our parents fell asleep before us, we definitely got to stay up late enough to watch the Goodnight Kiwi. 

The show that I rush home from school to watch is… There was an Australian show called Sons and Daughters which I’m pretty sure was at around 4.30pm every weekday. I’d come through the door, dump the schoolbag, turn the telly on, and you’d hear the Sons and Daughters theme song. I think at the time our TV was filled with Australian shows – Home and Away, Neighbours – and then after all of that you’d have good old Shortland Street.

My earliest TV crush was… Good guy Jonathan Rollins from LA Law, played by Blair Underwood. And funnily enough, in the late 90s Blair Underwood came to New Zealand to be part of Telethon. I also can’t really go past the bad boy of Beverly Hills 90210, Mr Luke Perry. 

The Speights southern men. Image: Youtube

My favourite New Zealand ad is… I really loved the Speight’s commercials. The one that comes to mind is the one where these southern farmers are in the pub having a pint to farewell their mate who’s going to Auckland to chase a girl. And they are saying he won’t be able to wear his Swanndri and drink Speight’s and he looks straight into the camera and just says “sorry Sharon.” The Speight’s and the Southern boys won that one. 

My television guilty pleasure is… My mum used to have a braiding shop in South Auckland. When you do a full head of braids it takes hours, so we’d have the TV on and we would absolutely indulge in all those terrible, terrible talk shows – Ricki Lake, Jerry Springer, Sally, Jessy Raphael. Every now and then, feel-good Oprah did come to play, but it was mostly all about the ridiculous fights and the audience chanting “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” while some guy introduces the world to his 10 wives. And there we were in South Auckland, just loving it. 

A TV moment that haunts me is… When us TrueBliss girls first found out who else was in the band, down on the Viaduct, we got to have this fancy waterfront lunch to celebrate. And as we were sitting there talking and getting to know each other, Peter Urlich asked about our party tricks. For some reason, I thought I would talk about my ability to move my ears without touching them. So the camera zoomed into my right ear to show my ears moving, but it wasn’t until we watched it back that I realised all you could see was this big fat zit that was right next to my ears. My ears were actually moving a bit, but who could see past that giant pimple? 

Megan, moments before moving her ears. Image: YouTube

My favourite TV moment of all time is… When the Commonwealth Games were here in New Zealand was really special. Being an immigrant family from South Africa, and watching this world event take place right here on your doorstep, it was so special to feel a part of it. This was back when the opening ceremony was much more simple with things like Jump Rope for Heart and aerobics, but I just remember sitting back and feeling really proud that it was all happening in a place that we now call home.

My favourite TV character of all time is… Cheryl West from Outrageous Fortune. She just embodied this powerful woman in this really male-dominated society. She was a mum who didn’t shy away from the fact that there are challenges with kids who are naughty. Just an amazing character, a Kiwi boss woman who could rule the roost while still holding onto her femininity at the same time. I loved that juxtaposition. 

The most stylish person on television is… The classy, strong and beautiful Carol Hirschfeld. Maybe it’s because I’ve always secretly wanted to be a newsreader, and she would always tell us what was going on around New Zealand and the world with such poise and grace. Also, as a woman of colour, it was awesome even way back then, to see someone who looked a little bit like us on primetime TV. She’s always been someone I’ve really aspired to be like.

Megan Alatini on Dancing With the Stars.

My favourite TV project you’ve ever been involved in is… Dancing with the Stars. I had such a fantastic time on that because it was this perfect mix of music, dance and reality TV, but was also something that gave back to a community. It really put me through my paces, I loved being able to learn something new and again, showcase that process to the public.

A TV project I wish I could be involved in is… In Living Colour. It was a show that showcased musicians and dancers and artists like Will Smith, Janet Jackson and JLo.  They wore the funkiest outfits and jammed to the most awesome R&B pop songs. Although, if you look back on Popstars, I wasn’t the greatest dancer so probably wouldn’t have made it.  

My most controversial TV opinion is… There was one time on NZ Idol as a judge where I was criticised after commenting on the dress sense of a young girl. She was a beautiful young girl from Hamilton who was a fantastic singer, but she would always get up on stage for the auditions looking a little bit scruffy and wearing these ballerina shoes. I said to her ”the next time you come on stage. I don’t want you to be wearing those shoes.” 

It wasn’t that I was looking down on her, but I wish I had stated it differently. I’m all about uplifting women and body positivity, and what I should have said is “girl, bring out your best self – lift up those shoulders, put on your best outfit, because this is your moment to shine.” I’ve often reflected on that moment and have since been really mindful about how I give criticism, and always have the intention to uplift everyone and not belittle anyone. 

Megan Alatini as a judge on NZ Idol

A show I will never watch, no matter how many people say I should is… I’ve never seen a full episode of Married at First Sight. I’ve seen little tidbits here and there, and I just cringe so much for these poor girls and guys when they can’t seem to hear the bullshit that’s coming out of their partners’ mouths.

The very last thing I watched on TV is… The Lost Boys of Dilworth on TVNZ+. I was just so saddened by the sheer trauma of it, what people in those nurturing positions did to those boys at the time is a travesty. I think it’s really important that we don’t sweep these things under the carpet, and make sure that survivors always have the support to safely talk about this stuff.

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