Maaka Fiso is disappointed, but he’s not discouraged. Following his shock exit last week, The X Factor NZ contestant admits he feels “robbed” after the double elimination, but his focus is onwards and upwards – and that starts with a new, more determined attitude.
“I would have felt a lot worse about leaving if I had been eliminated off the back of a bad performance,” says Maaka.
“But I was happy with it. I could blame the country for not voting, or the judges for making the decision, but I’m looking at the positives. I do feel a bit short-changed, though.”
While he’s heading back to his 26 kõhanga reo students in Wellington, Maaka has finally worked out where his true passion lies – with singing.
“I’ve known for a long time that a career in music is what I wanted, but I’ve been a bit lazy in the past. I could have pushed myself harder, but I was scared of the work that would go into it. I know I want it now.”
Maaka (26) is leaving the competition with his head held high, after consistently receiving praise from the judging panel. His elimination sparked uproar on social media last week, but he says the highlight of his time on the show was getting to know his mentor and “brother”, Stan Walker.
“It’s uncanny how similar we are. Obviously vocally, but spiritually, emotionally – in pretty much every way,” Maaka says.
“After I was eliminated, all the contestants went to the bar across the road from the hotel, and I didn’t see him a lot. But when I said goodbye to him, he was like, ‘Look, bro. I had to keep my distance from you, otherwise I would have cried.’ That was sweet.”
Maaka has a quiet, assured confidence and is reluctant to talk himself up. In fact, he’s become slightly more withdrawn since the competition began.
“I think it’s because I don’t want to come across as cocky,” he says. “I know I’m good, but it’s like, ‘Okay Maaka, you don’t need to go around telling everyone that!’
“I’m a private person and, if anything, I’m more private than I was before the show. It’s not something that comes naturally to me.”
Following his four-month X Factor journey, during which he had a makeover (“I loved that,” he says with a laugh), a brand-new Samsung smartphone and made invaluable contacts in the music industry, Maaka admits to feeling a little uncomfortable with the fame and notoriety that comes with the show.
“When we had a driver dropping us places, I would always ask if they could go a little further down the road to avoid the crowd of people outside,” he says.
“But I’m so grateful for everything, and I loved every minute of it. It’s been so exciting.”
Maaka, who has been active in the music industry for 10 years and last year sang on the soundtrack for the Kiwi film Two Little Boys starring Bret McKenzie and Hamish Blake, is looking forward to getting back to Wellington and doesn’t have any immediate plans to give up his teaching job.
“I love all my kids,” he says. “I was Skyping them all the way through the competition, I missed them so much. And they sent me up art that they’d drawn.
“I love kõhanga reo. It’s the cultural aspect, the survival of the language. Te Reo was my first language, so it’s special to me. But I will be exploring options in music too, and making the most of the exposure given to me by the show.”
But adjusting back to how life was prior to X Factor can be a difficult process.
“It’s not going to be 100% like it was before,” he says, thoughtfully. “I walk down the street now and people know who I am. It’s weird! I had to rearrange so much of my life for the show, so it’ll be strange to go back to real life. I don’t think I was prepared to leave that early.”
However, he takes comfort in the fact he’s gained a friend and mentor for life in Stan. And just before his departure, Maaka was given some valuable advice by Stan’s girlfriend Brittany Cairns, a former
The Voice Australia contestant.
“She told me you can be disappointed, but don’t be discouraged,” he says.
“So that’s exactly how I’m going to be.”
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The X Factor NZ screens on TV3, Sundays at 7pm and Mondays at 8pm.