There’s a lot of love in the The X Factor NZ camp.
From clandestine love affairs between contestants, to the deep affections the four judges and mentors hold for their protégées and protégés, there’s no shortage of hugs and kisses – and in Stan Walker and Daniel Bedingfield’s case, even a hongi or two.
But the Weekly decided to tear Stan, Daniel, Melanie Blatt and Ruby Frost away from their beloved contestants for an afternoon.
In-between a delicious lunch at Auckland restaurant Everybody’s Izakaya – and impromptu singalongs – we found out exactly what they think of each other, and the most difficult aspects of being on the top-rating TV3 show.
“It hasn’t been easy,” says Mel (38), renowned as the straight-shooting, tough-talking judge who almost reduced teenage sweetheart Cassie Henderson to tears a few weeks ago.
“I didn’t expect to be so personally invested. In fact, if we were to do another season, I’d try and detach myself from the contestants. It’s…”
“Emotionally draining,” chips in Stan (22), going back to the lunch table for thirds.
“You’re so invested. Heart and soul. It’s hard not to make it personal. I didn’t want to send Tom [Batchelor] home. He was my favourite. I looked forward to seeing him every day.”
“It’s hard to be professional when you’re sending someone home because you hang out with all of them, have dinner together. You let them into your spiritual space and then you have to say no,” Stan says.
“You end up feeling like a counsellor,” adds Ruby (25).
“They’re really feeling the pressure, so you have to give so many pep talks. They tell you about their lives, their problems. You want to be with them every step of the way.”
But through the heartaches, there have been incredible highs – and all of the judges are not looking forward to the conclusion of the series.
“My highlight had to be Ashley Tonga, the drag queen who sang Proud Mary,” laughs Daniel. “She was hilarious.Bring back Ashley!”
“That first live show, though, that was awesome,” says Mel.
“We got to that point and it was like, ‘Okay, this is it. It’s real.”
There have definitely been differences of opinion, however –mostly between erratic Daniel and everyone else on set.
In fact, during our shoot, the 33-year-old insisted on styling himself and kept ducking out of shot to check his hair was still perfect.
It got to the point where a patient assistant went out to the local Warehouse store to fetch a full-length mirror as his fellow judges waited – with a ot of good-natured eye-rolling from the three of them.
But the Kiwi-born Brit is unapologetic about comments and decisions he has made on the show, and while the group do tend to bicker (as we’ve seen many times over the last few weeks), they say it’s just because they’re passionate about the work they are doing.
“We’re all so different,” says Stan, who’s lost all three of his over-25 acts, and has apparently turned to styling, helping Ruby decide on her second outfit for the shoot.
“Radically different,” Daniel adds with a smile.
“Yeah, and it’s hard for me because I know I’m a strong personality,” Stan continues.
“So I’m thinking about the rest of them, ‘How come you don’t like what I like?’”
“I think, Stan, you and I find it hard to take each other seriously with some of the acts,” Daniel muses, while Stan nods in agreement. “Like, the fact
that I don’t like Tom…”
“That offends me!” Ruby interrupts with a smile.
“Well, you both look at me like, ‘What the hell?’ But I can’t help it,” Daniel finishes.
It seems that Ruby, whose real name is Jane de Jong, is normally the one getting caught in the middle of the arguments between Daniel and the others, but she says she’s used to it and won’t be swayed by anyone.
“It can be very intense – especially on Monday nights,” she says.
“Like last week, I had Stan and Dan in my ear, trying to influence my decision, but I was like, ‘Shut up. I’m going to make the call I want to make!’”
Ruby admits she clicks with Daniel the best out of the judges, and does sometimes have to act as peacemaker as she sits between him and Stan on the judging panel.
“We have a lot in common, in terms of songwriting and clothes – we’re definitely the craziest dressers! He is crazy sometimes, but he’s a genius.”
Showing far more guts and bravado than anyone would have guessed before filming began, Ruby’s not as sweet as her candyfloss-coloured hair would suggest – as Mel has mentioned in the Sunday papers – and she’s fiercely protective of her boys, Benny Tipene and Whenua Patuwai.
“I’m like Mama Ruby, protecting the cubs,” she says, with a laugh.
With the end of the show rapidly approaching and only three weeks of the competition left, Ruby, Mel and Daniel are determined to win – and each believe they’ve got the act that will take it out.
“I’ve got the winner,” Daniel says confidently of his girls Jackie Thomas and Cassie – but it’s a sentiment that’s echoed by everyone.
“My competitive side has come out during the show,” Ruby says.
“Now I’m driven. Now I really want this thing!”