Remembering New Zealand’s greatest talent show performances

With Popstars returning to our screens tonight, we turn back the clock and relive some of New Zealand’s most memorable talent show stars.

Being the country that essentially invented the reality talent show, New Zealand has no shortage of memorable performers from the last 22 years of the genre. Ben Lummis. Rosita Vai. Jackie Thomas. Beau Monga. These names are etched into the halls of reality TV fame, but what about those who didn’t come away with the win? Or those who never even got to finish their audition because Frankie Stevens was cranky? Or those simply lost to the annals of time? 

In preparation for the new rebooted season of Popstars, the show that started it all, Alex Casey and Stewart Sowman-Lund returned to some of our favourite 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 an equivalent of an EGOT? If not, we urgently need to make one and we urgently need to give it to Breakfast’s Indira Stewart for her stint on NZ Idol that took her all the way to second place. Is it even legal to be good at radio, good at telly and good at singing? The police are yet to respond to my request for comment, so in the meantime please also enjoy this divine clip of Indira singing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas‘ just last year. Je suis Matty McLean wistfully resting 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 greatest person. In my mind, the true heroes of reality TV aren’t those who go on to win but those who put themselves on the line, face the cruelty of the public and just totally own it. Move over Siouxsie Wiles, I’d like to retrospectively crown Mitchell Wahl the New Zealander of not just this year, but every year. / Stewart Sowman-Lund

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

Amazing to think that without this one-shot Mae Valley triumph, Sam Mendes probably would have never picked up his camcorder and made 1917. I find something new in the background of this delicately orchestrated performance every time, one involving what appears to be the entire team of 4.596 million (at the time). Also, extremely funny to think about the audience in the other room staring at an empty stage for nearly two minutes. This was the Valley gals at their peak. / AC

Ben, ‘My Alien’ (NZ Idol, 2006)

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

“It’s the era of Ben.” 

“I was in the toilet and who did I bump into… Frankie Stevens.”

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

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

Sadly, it’s been 15 years so I think it’s very likely that was the last the judges ever saw of Ben. / SSL

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

I could have criiiiiieeed all night and I plan to crryyyyyy all night. Where our Idols and our X Factors tended to favour the young and malleable for a top 10, New Zealand’s Got Talent threw their arms wide open to all Kiwis to let their star shine. And look what happened – bloody 92 year-old legend Olivia Turner in the bloody final. / AC

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

Joe Irvine is basically a household name, but we only know him because of that performance. You know, the one that made Natalia Kills go into witness protection. But in his very first audition, the Willy Moon doppelganger wowed the judges and the New Zealand public alike with possibly the most energetic, karaoke rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ possible. Is it good? I don’t know, you’d have to ask Freddie Mercury. But regardless, Irvine made it through to the next round of the competition and cemented his position in the NZ 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 it any more obvious? We don’t talk nearly enough about Stars in Their Eyes NZ, and to be honest I could have chosen any performance from the terrific Simon Barnett joint to make this holy list. Meat Loaf. Norah Jones. Johnny Cash. Because every single bloody time these absolute punters come out of the smoke transformed into a celebrity, I can’t help but gasp. Even though I am 98% sure I know how they do it now, I continue to be hustled, scammed, bamboozled and hood-winked by this TV sorcery. / AC

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 that stopped the nation in its tracks with his gorgeous yodelling tones, of-the-moment Ed Sheeran cover and Meet the Robinsons aesthetic. Charming young Archie even got dour king Willy Moon clicking his fingers, and to this day I still think about the way he pulls of singing “plaa-haAAAN” at the 1.45 mark. And to think: this wasn’t even his first rodeo! Where is he now, who is he now, how is he singing the word “plan” now. I must know. / AC

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

Sam makes the daring decision to perform both the Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman parts of this song from the hit movie Moulin Rouge. The judges were unimpressed but I guess they’ve never seen the film, because Sam absolutely nails it. He plays McGregor better than McGregor ever could. We can probably gloss over his Kidman. Either way, resubmit this to the Academy and Moulin Rouge will sweep the Oscars. / SSL

Talitha Blake ‘Feeling Good’ (X Factor NZ, 2015)

There’s nothing quite like when the person on screen says the name of the show or movie that they are starring in, and Talitha Blake takes the cake for this X Factor NZ fourth wall break. I was in the room for this moment and I still remember it like it was yesterday. A vengeful bird pooed on my shoulder on the way to the auditions at Skycity Theatre, but all the pain and humiliation went away when Talitha started singing. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. This is X FACTOOORRRR – and I’m feeling… goooooood about our return to talent shows as a nation. / AC


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 Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.




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