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Popstars winner Christabel shares how being on TV affected her mental health

The talented singer admits her time on TV took its toll on her mental health
Pictures: Zara Staples, Christian Tjandrawinata, Kara Woskett

One moment, talented Kiwi singer and Popstars winner Christabel Williams was hustling to make ends meet. Next, she was enjoying a $100,000 cash prize, flying to London and Los Angeles in pursuit of her dream music career.

Three years later, the Aucklander, 23, admits her sudden explosion into the public eye took a heavy toll on her mental health. But the experience, along with unwavering support from her boyfriend Luca Turner, is the creative fuel behind a collection of innovative new music.

“Before Popstars, I was working really hard doing gigs and recording to attain my music career. It was like it suddenly went from zero to 100!” says Christabel. “Winning the show and getting this massive chunk of money was amazing. It felt euphoric.”

Popstars changed her life.

While she’s grateful for her time on the TVNZ 2 reality show in 2021, when she wrote and released her iTunes chart topper If You Ain’t Looking, Christabel admits being on telly was stressful.

“I’d never been in that kind of situation and it was actually quite traumatic,” the powerhouse vocalist recalls. “My emotions were heightened and I was constantly on edge. I’m an emotional person, but TV really exaggerated it!

“I received a lot of online hate from people who thought I didn’t deserve to win. At the same time, I was dealing with personal things that happened before the show, so everything was pretty intense.”

Christabel was in an abusive relationship during her late teens. She struggled with imposter syndrome and was genuinely surprised when Kiwi pop princess Kimbra announced she was the winner of the reality show.

With Popstars judge Kimbra.

“It was a really proud moment for me. I’d put so much effort into everything I did on Popstars,” Christabel tells. “I wanted to prove that I’m an artist and that this is what I’m really good at. My driving force for winning the competition was to make my dream of travelling the world and working full-time in music come true. It paid off!”

In March 2021, she headed to California for three months. She stayed with her Kiwi boyfriend Luca, 23, who works in the film industry over there after winning the green card lottery.

“I met awesome people in the music industry in LA. It really solidified that this is the direction I want to go in,” she adds.

Christabel has split the past couple of years between New Zealand, the UK and Luca’s place in the US. They started dating just before her reality TV debut in 2021.

Luca and pal Hunter Williams taking her publicity shots in California.

“I met Luca through a flatmate a month before I went on Popstars,” she shares. “I remember being home and hearing a voice I didn’t recognise, so I went downstairs and saw this guy sitting with my friends. We had the most insane eye contact, then I just asked who he was and why he was in my house!”

One of her new songs, Good Man, is about Luca, whom she describes as “selfless”.

“It was first written with the idea that I didn’t deserve to be loved by somebody so good,” Christabel explains. “Having previously experienced relationships where I was taken advantage of, I didn’t
feel worthy of much else.

“I have faults and bruises and baggage, but one person has loved me through all of it regardless, and treated me with respect. It’s pretty confessional and was therapeutic to write. I never get sick of singing it!”

The couple is used to doing long-distance, having spent seven months apart at one stage, which Christabel concedes was rough.

“It really tested us both and we used to spend hours on the phone. Now there are times we still do it, but we’ve got into the groove of life and it’s normal. We’ve been doing this for three years now. When you’re with the right person, it happens naturally.”

Since returning to Auckland in June last year, Christabel has juggled making music in the studio with a role as a marketing coordinator for an arts and culture centre. “It’s been surprisingly helpful for my mental health,” she says. “This ‘normal’ job has been rewarding and stabilising.”

While her new music has a fresh style with elements of folk, fans can expect the usual soulful ballads from Christabel. She doesn’t have a release date for her album yet.

“There are still times I struggle with momentary thoughts of not being good enough or meeting the high standards I’ve set for myself,” admits the singer,. She dreams of performing stadium shows one day. “But I remember, ‘Actually, people like my music and they’re going to appreciate it.’

“I used to feel so pressured to keep up with the expectations that winning Popstars had put on me. That induced this really dense writer’s block. But it did come back naturally. As soon as I let go of those expectations and accepted that I don’t want to rush this creative process. I’m really confident with my new music. Good things really do take time – and so does a good man.”

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