Idol over for Urban

By Alexandra Newlove

Uncle Paul Urbahn, from Hikurangi
Uncle Paul Urbahn, from Hikurangi

The trail left by Whangarei's Urban legend still runs hot, according to a relative of the country music star.

Urban (he used to be Urbahn but dropped the H) is arguably the most famous Northlander in the world. For the past four years Urban has been a judge on American Idol, watched by millions of viewers worldwide. Last night, American Idol screened on New Zealand television for the last time.

It was the farewell series -- Idol is over, leaving Urban free to embark on a world tour after releasing his ninth studio album, Ripcord, next month, although the Whangarei-born musician is yet to announce any Kiwi dates.

After Urban performed in Los Angeles on Idol's last episode, the Advocate scoped out the humble Northland locales that moulded him.

Born in Whangarei in 1967, Urban's claims to fame include multiple platinum albums and hit singles, as well as being Mr Nicole Kidman. His public profile further blew up when in 2012 when he replaced Stephen Tyler as a judge on American Idol.

He was also a pretty sweet ukelele player as a toddler, according to Hikurangi-based uncle Paul Urbahn.

Mr Urbahn was unsurprised by the media visit and said another journalist had dropped by a few days before.

"A guy turned up last week -- I spent about three hours with him. Though that was mainly me trying to remember things!" Mr Urbahn said.

Memory refreshed, the retiree says he doesn't have much contact with the star these days.

"Honestly, I prefer hard rock."

He does have fond memories of attending his nephew's Sydney wedding to Nicole Kidman in 2006. Close to hand is the wedding programme and an engraved Tiffany clock he was given as a momento of the day, undoubtedly a collector's item.

"I won't be parting with it in my lifetime," Mr Urbahn advises.

The sentimentality appears to end there.

"I'm not sure if I'll watch [the Idol finale]," he said yesterday. "It depends what's on the other channels."

Mr Urbahn recalled Urban strumming from a young age, picking up a ukelele at 4 years old and playing it continuously, often on the porch of his Wrack St, Kensington childhood home.

That home is now owned by Martin and Kerri Topp, who bought it 13 years ago. The family knew the 1959-built house was owned by the Urbahns, although when they mention it they sometimes get a "Keith who" response.

"I suppose it's funny more than anything else. Sometimes we tell people Keith Urban used to live here. But it's good to know the history of the house," Mr Topp said.

Urban lived in Whangarei until he was 7, then moved to Australia with his parents and eventually heading to country music mecca Nashville, Tennessee.

He returned to New Zealand to visit family in 1992 and 2004.

In last night's final episode of American Idol, 25-year-old farm boy Trent Harmon triumphed over 22-year-old single mother La'Porsha Renae in a result that stunned many viewers.

Idol was the top-rated show on US television for eight consecutive seasons from 2003 to 2011, but its American backer Fox announced it was ditching it in 2015 when viewership fell to 11.6 million, down from its 2006 peak of 36 million.

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