Lizzie Marvelly has always liked to push the limits.
At the age of 27, the talented singer has already managed to reinvent herself a few times, from her early career as a classical vocalist to her more recent foray into pop – and then there’s her work as a writer, activist and award-winning columnist.
She recently graced our screens as a judge in TVNZ 1’s The Naked Choir, a gig she says she’d loved, but as she settles into the make-up chair for the Weekly’s exclusive photoshoot, there’s a hint of tiredness to her usual perky manner.
“I’m definitely a busy person,” she says with a laugh. “I like it that way – but maybe not quite this busy.”
As we chat in the hour or so she has free in her hectic calendar, Lizzie admits that her current schedule is a little too much, even for her. She says her priority right now is to start saying “no”a lot more, following a 50-day stint of back-to-back work earlier this year that left her burnt out.
“I got to the end of it and I just went, ‘Actually, this is too much,’ she says, shaking her head. “I’ve had to say, ‘I can’t do this any more.’ I love all the different roles I have, but I’ve really had to learn this year that I can’t do everything or I’m going to go nuts.”
Instead, Lizzie says she’s prioritising her singing, writing and community work – and learning how to politely decline some other requests.
“It’s always been a weak spot of mine, but I’m getting better at it. I used to feel really bad when I said no, but now, I feel like if I say yes, I know I’m not going to be able to give it my all.”
However, one opportunity she couldn’t say no to was being a part of The Naked Choir’s judging panel, alongside Matt Gifford and John Rosser. Lizzie says she was pleasantly surprised when she got the call inviting her to join the show.
“I was like, ‘An a cappella talent show?!” she exclaims. “I’d seen Pitch Perfect, which I just love, so I was definitely up for it. It’s a really interesting format, and it’s really cool to see people getting together and enjoying music. So it ticked all the boxes for me.”
Lizzie herself hasn’t sung a cappella often during her 10-year career, but remembers her very first national tour, where she accompanied the late Sir Howard Morrison.
“I sang the beginning of Memories from Cats a cappella,” she remembers. “It was so, so difficult. It’s not an easy thing to do at all – you really have to focus on intonation and pitching, and there are some people who really struggle to pitch without backing music. So I have total respect for the choirs that came on the show.”
Determined to take an honest but kind approach, Lizzie says critiquing people’s singing doesn’t come naturally to her.
“I want to build performers up, not knock them down – life will do that anyway.”
But she says she enjoyed the chance to get into the “nitty-gritty” of music.
“There’s a lot of pressure and I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but you’re holding people’s fate in your hands,” she says. “But I’m a massive music geek, so when you’re a judge, you can talk to people about the mechanics of performing.”
The glare of a TV camera also adds another element to the experience, but Lizzie’s no stranger to that after her appearances as a regular guest on Three’s The Project and singing the national anthem before All Blacks matches. Interestingly, she says, it’s never during those high-profile, pressure-cooker moments that she succumbs to nerves.
“You can’t have a 10-year career and have every performance be perfect,” she grins. “But it’s never when there are cameras trained on you and a million people watching that perfection happens – it’s actually when it’s just 100 people in the audience in a small town.”
With The Naked Choir all wrapped up, Lizzie is very much looking forward to a mini-break in her schedule.
“I’m taking three days off and going to Sydney,” she exclaims excitedly. “I mean, I am working over there for a bit… but still. Shopping and seeing friends – it’ll be great.” Here’s hoping there’s a slightly longer break on the horizon soon!