Talent are thanking their lucky stars

By Scott Kara

New Zealand's Got Talent flopped first time round but, four years on, those behind the new local version of the show tell Scott Kara that they have the formula right.

Jason Kerrison, Rachel Hunter and Ali Campbell are ready to check out the talent. Photo / NZ Herald
Jason Kerrison, Rachel Hunter and Ali Campbell are ready to check out the talent. Photo / NZ Herald

Even New Zealand's Got Talent judge Jason Kerrison was wary of being part of the country's latest TV star-spotting quest.

The OpShop frontman took a lot of convincing that the local version of the show was going to be a top notch production, not some cheap rip-off of its overseas equivalent.

"I'll be completely frank, when I was initially asked to do it I was quite reluctant to be involved," he says of the series which pits singers and dancers against wannabe cheerleaders, unicycling crazies, and many other weird and wonderful performers. "I've seen these franchises come into New Zealand and they're much less ... I mean, they basically become a facsimile of what we've been watching on the international stage."

He was eventually persuaded by the promise of a series with "huge and beautiful production values" to make it not only a top quality TV show for viewers at home but to also give contestants a showbiz-style experience.

And when Kerrison and his fellow judges, supermodel - and an international reality show veteran as contestant and judge - Rachel Hunter and former UB40 frontman Ali Campbell, got to Dunedin for the first lot of filmed auditions he says it was clear the show would deliver.

"Walking into the Regent Theatre, I was blown away, it looked like the real deal, it all ran really, really professionally and the acts were being really well looked after."

But then he would say that now he's a judge on what is a very expensive and challenging show to make. TVNZ is not revealing the actual budget, but it has $1.6 million funding from NZ On Air and a hefty key sponsor in Toyota.

Prime TV's failed NZ's Got Talent series in 2008 cost $4 million and though it was reasonably popular, and sometimes hilarious with its performing dogs and chainsaw jugglers, it didn't pull the viewers or sufficient advertising revenue to warrant another series.

But now TV One has the rights to the Simon Cowell-created franchise which has launched the careers - or should that be subjected the world to? - of unlikely stars including singers Susan Boyle and Paul Potts, and this year's Britain's Got Talent winners Ashleigh Butler and her dancing dog Pudsey.

The New Zealand show, which will be hosted by Breakfast's Tamati Coffey, is produced by the makers of MasterChef NZ and executive producer Bettina Hollings is well aware of the scepticism surrounding the series.

"There hasn't been a talent show in New Zealand for a few years but, and justifiably so, there is now, and I think the contestants will reward the audience with some pretty good stuff. New Zealand has got talent and the contestants prove it."

Hollings refuses to compare the Prime series with the latest one, but says SYCOtv, the company that owns the Got Talent format, set out strict parameters for what it wants to see in the show - primarily high production values, a broad range of talent, and personal stories.

More than 5000 acts from around the country auditioned for the show in May and June. The top 200 took part in further auditions in front of the three judges in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland during July. And the first five episodes of the 13-week series will be taken up with those auditions before the field is whittled down to the final 30.

From this point on viewers will be able to vote via text for their favourite contestants and the line-up will then be cut back to 12. The finale will feature international guest performers and group performances before the winner of the $100,000 first prize is revealed.

Although the details of the performances are under wraps, the NZGT website shows everything from cheerleaders and hip-hop dance groups, a unicyclist, and a one-man brass band (playing the theme to Dad's Army), doing their thing as part of the audition process.

Kerrison says he had a lot of respect for people just getting up there and giving it a crack. "That's how I looked at it. Ultimately it's a variety show. I had to put all preconceptions and assumptions aside. And I don't profess to have any clue about how to pole dance. Although I have tried it once and come off second best. But basically from doing the show I now have a fairly good idea what to look for in dance."

However, it's not a charity show and as a judge he says he also had to be up front and honest because it's his reputation on the line too. And he was on the look out for "those wow moments, those OMG moments".

Although he can't say too much about the individual talent ahead of this weekend's first episode, one of his "OMG moments" was an elderly man in his 80s who hadn't performed for more than 40 years. Kerrison remembers he got up on stage nervously but when he sang it was a poignant and special moment. "And what am I going to tell a guy like that? I was like, 'I've got nothing to add to that. Thanks for that'."

One of Hollings most memorable moments was when a guitar-playing Sonny Bill Williams lookalike performed.

"He decided to rock up with his guitar and sang a Rod Stewart song. It was I Don't Want To Talk About It. That was a pretty big moment for everybody in the theatre, and especially for one of our judges," she laughs.

For Hollings the show is about bringing a whole range of talent together "that says a lot about who we are as New Zealanders".

"What I love about New Zealand's Got Talent is that it's come one, come all, no matter your style, talent or abilities really. It welcomes everybody.

"But we also hope the winner rises to prominence in their chosen field and there is no question that this will give them that opportunity. But normally it's up to their ambition, not just what the show gives them."

What: New Zealand's Got Talent
Where & when: Sundays, 7.30pm, TV One, Season lasts 13 weeks.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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