X Factor judge: Stan Walker's a soft touch

Imported X Factor NZ judges Melanie Blatt and Daniel Bedingfield talk to Scott Kara about the gig.

X Factor NZ judges (from left) Daniel Bedingfield, Ruby Frost, Stan Walker and Melanie Blatt.  Photo / Supplied
X Factor NZ judges (from left) Daniel Bedingfield, Ruby Frost, Stan Walker and Melanie Blatt. Photo / Supplied

Daniel Bedingfield has a nickname for his fellow X Factor New Zealand judge Stan Walker. He calls him "Gates of Heaven".

"Because he lets everyone in," says the New Zealand-born, British-raised pop star with a big grin.

He's right, you can just imagine Walker - the Maori boy from the Mount done good - being a bit of a soft touch when the Kiwi version of Simon Cowell's TV talent show starts on TV3 on April 21.

And up-and-coming local pop princess Ruby Frost or "Little Miss Candy Floss" as Bedingfield calls the pink-haired singer, is likely to be the encouraging one given her newbie status.

But you can bet Bedingfield and Melanie Blatt, a former member of mega-selling 90s British girl group All Saints and the supposed bitch of the judging bunch, won't be letting just any pop wannabe through. She may have been a pretty and sultry pop star in All Saints, but Blatt is tough, and if her demeanour is anything like it is when TimeOut talks to her, she's set to be a fearsome presence on the judging panel.

"I'm straight-talking on the show and I'm straight-talking off the show," she says as she lounges on a couch beside Bedingfield at Auckland's SkyCity Grand Hotel.

"She hits straight," offers Bedingfield, whose pet name for her is "The Voice of Reason". "She's very, very honest and she actually knows what she's talking about," he says referring to the more than 10 million albums All Saints sold in their heyday.

They haven't come up with a name for Bedingfield yet. But perhaps something like Mr Perfection would work since that's what he and Blatt are looking for from the contestants on X Factor NZ.

"I think these type of shows really have the potential to bring the great talent forward," he says, "and I just want to make sure the good talent gets through. I have no tolerance at all for bad music and I've done everything I can to be sure average people do not get through, to protect the people with true talent."

The X Factor NZ, a multimillion-dollar production that has funding from NZ On Air to the tune of $1.6 million, is the latest international TV talent show to screen here following three seasons of New Zealand Idol in the mid-2000s and more recently NZ's Got Talent, which has announced a second series following the success of last year's show. The X Factor format is unique in that the judges also act as mentors to whichever one of four groups - either the under-25 boys, under-25 girls, over-25s, and groups - they are assigned to.

Though much of the New Zealand show's make-up is still under wraps, Bedingfield is upfront about the fact he would have been happy to mentor any of the groups, apart from the over-25s. "I have no passion for them whatsoever. And I don't believe any of them have great talent."

Following that little tirade he proceeds to rattle off a number of names - names we can't reveal - who he thinks might win the competition. He's also "still grieving" about having to send home a singer who he believed could have won but, after a stunning audition, didn't cut it in the following rounds.

As is tradition the series begins by taking in the auditions from around New Zealand, before the numbers are whittled down for "boot camp", and then the four groups go off with their mentors to the "judges' retreat" where they find out if they have made the final cut. After that it is down to the last 12 who will battle it out during the live shows.

"I didn't know what to expect when I got here," says Blatt, "and I didn't know what was unique to New Zealand. But from the talent I have seen, it is a vocally talented country. It's very soulful.

"There are people who you can definitely compare to any US artist in the charts now. I'm a huge fan of the X Factor UK and it's a completely different level I think. In England a lot of it is about the full package but here it's the voices that are really impressive."

It has to be said, as judges go, Bedingfield and Blatt don't have the star power of, say, Britney Spears (who was pretty awful on X Factor USA but a household name nonetheless) and the bubbly Demi Lovato. Both of their careers have been quiet in recent years with Bedingfield not releasing an album since 2004 and Blatt only enjoying moderate solo success since the All Saints (first) broke up in 2001. But Blatt seems totally at ease with her current lifestyle. Asked if she will ever release the debut solo album she shelved in 2005 to concentrate on the brief, ill-fated All Saints reunion, she's adamant. "No. I'm just really happy working with friends who are producers, and promotion is not my biggest, ah, I'm not a big fan of promoting [myself]. I'm just quite happy staying at home, looking after my daughter, and I DJ a little bit."

And she jumped at the chance of coming to New Zealand for X Factor.

"It's just a great opportunity. I got offered the judging role and I didn't think twice."

For Bedingfield it's different. Though his primary aim is to find talented Kiwi singers, it's fair to say he's also using X Factor as a chance to promote his own music.

His career started with a bang in 2001 with his first single Gotta Get Thru This topping the British charts and helping his debut album sell more than 4 million copies.

But 2004's second album, Second First Impression, was not as successful and also in that year he was badly injured in a car accident near Whangarei while on holiday. But, says Bedingfield, he's back with the release of the dramatic, Muse-like pop of latest single Secret Fear - with its risque, arty video, directed by the singer- off his new EP.

The pair's experience of the ups and downs of the music industry means as mentors they will be able to pass on their musical nous and offer tips on the business side and how to survive.

"Be true to yourself," is the main message Blatt wants to get through to contestants. "If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. I know there were a lot of big money deals back in the day that All Saints were offered that we said no to because we didn't want to go down that road. And there have been times when I thought later, 'Oh, if only we'd have done that'," she laughs.

"But, realistically, if you are in a creative environment it shouldn't be about money. You shouldn't go out looking for money and as soon as you start doing that you compromise everything about yourself."

For Blatt the reason X Factor is the leading TV talent show comes down to the success rate it has had producing big name artists such as One Direction and Leona Lewis, and on a more localised level, Australian winner Reece Mastin.

Bedingfield agrees but says the New Zealand version will be distinct from overseas versions of the show.

"They try to turn them into a product, but we're all determined to not let that happen. This is New Zealand, we don't really appreciate huge hair, and the big production like they do in America, and we don't have the same kind of pressure of being perfect and getting everything right like they do in England. So I think this will be a very watchable show."

What: The X Factor NZ

When: Starts Sunday April 21, 7pm. There will be two shows a week on Sundays, 7pm, and Mondays, 7.30pm.

Who: Daniel Bedingfield and Melanie Blatt, who judge alongside Kiwis Stan Walker and Ruby Frost

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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