Our Rach the real talent on TV screens

By Kieran Campbell

Girl power - some old, some new - dominated this year's TV discoveries.

 New Zealand's Got Talent  judges (left) Jason Kerrison, Rachel Hunter and Ali Campbell spent more than three months in our living rooms. Right, Jaime and Sally Ridge starred in the reality show The Ridges. Photo / Otago Daily Times/Supplied
New Zealand's Got Talent judges (left) Jason Kerrison, Rachel Hunter and Ali Campbell spent more than three months in our living rooms. Right, Jaime and Sally Ridge starred in the reality show The Ridges. Photo / Otago Daily Times/Supplied

Many of this year's most newsworthy personalities were fly-by-nighters from a long list of talent shows appealing to the country's obsession with reality TV.

But those watching the entertainment landscape closely say it was the domestic revival of one of New Zealand's biggest international celebrities that deserves the gong for best personality story of 2012.

According to former women's magazine editor Wendyl Nissen, the rebirth of Rachel Hunter was the most significant celebrity moment of the year.

The model Kiwi has tried to return home in the past, but "she sounded all a bit LA and a bit weird", Nissen says.

This year she was triumphant and shone as the most popular of the New Zealand's Got Talent judges.

"She was nothing at the beginning of the year and now she's getting huge money from magazines again," Nissen said.

Herald on Sunday gossip columnist Ricardo Simich agreed, declaring Hunter "definitely the celebrity of the year in my books".

"For the first time ever she let New Zealanders get to know her," he said.

"She just allowed herself to be a New Zealander and she really was - accessible, nice and real."

Those qualities, Simich says, are what keep the country's thirst for reality shows alive.

It was no surprise to the Spy scribe that shows like The Block, New Zealand's Got Talent and My Kitchen Rules ("even though it was eight months" behind Australia) were the most watched this year.

In September, Simich revealed The Block winner Ben Crawford was making "the most of his new-found fame by cosying up to sexy Underbelly actress Anna Hutchison at a trendy Fashion Week bash".

"They become celebrities," the gossiper said. "The Block [was] definitely the number-one success."

More than a million New Zealanders watched the renovated homes auctioned off in the series finale.

A similar sized audience tuned in to watch Marlborough teenager Clara Van Wel crowned the winner of New Zealand's Got Talent this month.

An average of 1.4 million Kiwis watched the show each week since it started screening in September.

Nissen, who is no stranger to watching the creation of overnight celebrities, admitted the talent show types dominated the celebrity news again this year.

"She's an overnight success," Nissen said of Van Wel, who sang her way through the competition and on to the charts.

Despite a decade of talent shows, New Zealand has maintained an unquenchable thirst for reality TV.

"It's amazing that we haven't run out of talent," Nissen says.

"It's interesting that they [talent shows] have survived. I think it's driven a lot by overseas."

Things were starting to feel even more Americanised when TV3 unleashed New Zealand's attempt at Kardashian-style reality show: The Ridges.

Auckland socialite Sally Ridge - with "blind ambition", Nissen says - decided the time was right for cameras to follow her every move and broadcast it to the nation.

"She woke up one morning in January 2012, went 'I have no future' and decided on putting her child out there.

"There would have been no show without her daughter Jaime," Nissen says. "[Sally] might have got some recognition but at what price?"

Nissen worried what pressure Sally had opened her daughter up to with the widely-panned programme, which is tipped to return in the New Year.

"I think we'll see what that price is next year with Jaime," Nissen said.

"I've heard she's a really nice kid, quite quiet, trying to do her study at university.

"Are we going to look at a train crash or someone who embraces [celebrity] and becomes a great star?"

'Ripped from the headlines' was the tagline promoting the show.

One headline for a review after the last episode said: "At last, something happens on The Ridges", referring to a boxing match between Jaime and a 'star' of The GC, the reality show about Mozzies, Maori on the Gold Coast.

"The series' fatal flaw," the reviewer said, "was not the awfulness of stage mother Sally Ridge, propelling her sweetly clueless daughter toward the cruellest possible kind of limelight ... The problem was that all of a sudden ... nothing happened."

Simich, who says Sally has never gone "out of style with women's magazines", saw the socialite's reality series differently.

"I think in her own way she took an opportunity and did it well," he said.

The most unexpected celebrity of the year first appeared in the media when she gave evidence in the High Court at Wellington.

Her blonde bob, piercing eyes and cats-eye spectacles made Anna Guy a striking witness in the trial of husband Ewen Macdonald, later acquitted of murdering her brother, Scott Guy.

Ambitious Anna revealed after her husband's court case that she planned to leave Feilding for a life with her children in Auckland and a career in the media.

She continued to make headlines when she took an internship at a radio station and then was announced as part of the presenting team for TV3's upcoming current affairs show 3rd Degree.

"I think she's the aspiring media personality of the year," Simich said, reflecting on the public's craving to know as much about Anna Guy as the media could report.

"The trial aside, she has deserved all the column inches [she got]."


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