Celebrity News

Rachel Hunter: ‘I’ll be the judge’

The model is on a quest to find New Zealand’s next big star.

Putting yourself in the public eye is a terrifying prospect. Standing on a stage with nothing but your belief and talent to rely on is the stuff of nightmares for many of us. But in a couple of months, that’s exactly what hundreds of Kiwis will be doing – and no-one knows more about how that feels than Rachel Hunter. “I love it when people are prepared to put themselves up for a challenge and really try to succeed,” says Rachel (42), who has just been announced as the sole female judge on TVNZ’s New Zealand’s Got Talent.

“But it can be tough, putting yourself out there, open to whatever people want to throw at you. “We’ve seen it happen on The X Factor and American Idol – once you put yourself out there, you do get scrutinised,” she says. “If you want to be the best act, you have to be judged, and that can be pretty hard to deal with, so it helps if you can develop a thick skin. Social media is quite helpful, actually. If someone says something about you, at least you can defend yourself.”

Despite her sure knowledge that no matter what she does, there will be some negative feedback, the feisty mum is more than prepared for anything that comes her way. “I’m sure I’ll get judged for being a judge, and making certain choices, but that’s to be expected. I’m like anyone else – some days I’m great, some days I suck,” she laughs. “But over the years I’ve learned to ignore it when people print unflattering pictures of me, or say I’ve made a mess of something. I’ve realised that once you become well known, that stuff happens.”

Speaking from the elegant LA home she shares with her children Renee (20) and Liam (18), Rachel says she’s really excited at the prospect of fronting a TV show in New Zealand. “For ages, I’ve been looking at doing a show that brings me home for three or four months. When I was offered this, I was over the moon,” she says. “America is still home, and it always will be, but while I’ve done plenty of shows in America and England, I really wanted to do something here.”

Rachel isn’t just delighted to be able to spend a few weeks back in her home country, where she first found success, she’s excited to fulfil another passion – supporting people in their quest to realise their dreams. “It’s the perfect job for me. It gives me another reason to visit New Zealand, but also, I’ve been through a lot of change in the past three years. After I hurt my back 18 months ago, I made a decision to stop living in fear, worrying about the next move, money and what I ‘need’ to be doing. Now it’s about making better choices for myself.”

One of those choices was to take a role in helping to find New Zealand’s hottest new star, alongside fellow judges Ali Campbell of UB40 and OpShop frontman Jason Kerrison, plus host Tamati Coffey. “New Zealand has a huge amount of talent,” she says. “Look at Temuera Morrison and Martin Henderson, who have scored acting roles in Hollywood, or Kimbra and Gin Wigmore, who are doing great internationally. As a country, we have a lot to offer.”

While Rachel’s yet to discover if she has a secret flamethrowing ability or can recite poetry backwards, she’s very aware of her limitations – and her skills. “I can’t sing to save my life, so luckily the other two judges have that covered!” she laughs. “I’m sure I’ll get asked what my talent is and, honestly, I have no idea. But I can recognise something charismatic and entertaining, I’m opinionated, and I have a lot of compassion. “And I’m honest, which is important. If someone doesn’t have a hope of succeeding, it’s only fair they are told. But if I think something’s good, I’ll come out fighting for it!”

Rachel knows her judging role will once again expose her to the public’s critical eye, especially as she’s the only woman on the panel. So is she planning on becoming New Zealand’s answer to American Idol judge Jennifer Lopez? “I hope I’m able to pull off what J-Lo does in the US – and I’m looking forward to putting a few outfits together!” she smiles. But, she adds, “Doing this show isn’t about me, it’s not a self-serving thing. This is about the contestants. For years I’ve been the model in the room, the sex kitten in the swimsuit. Now it’s time to do things differently.”

In fact, Rachel’s credentials for the job are pretty good. “I’ve hosted modelling reality shows in the past and been a contestant on a few – Dancing with the Stars in the States and Celebrity Circus in England – but I’ve never done a reality show in New Zealand,” she says. “I hope it’s going to be a good opportunity to reach out to a new audience. I find it hilarious when I’m in New Zealand and people ask if they can have their photo taken with me, but their 10-year-old is standing there with absolutely no clue who I am!”

While Rachel has no plans to leave the US permanently, she’s pretty tuned in to the Kiwi way and is fully expecting a range of unusual talent during the show. “I really want to see a sheep roll in at some point – it just wouldn’t be New Zealand if there wasn’t a sheep in it!”

But when Rachel flies in to begin filming later this month, her priority will be to back those Kiwis putting themselves out there, as she has done. “I have a pretty good sense of humour when I see unflattering pictures of myself, or read that I’ve supposedly made a mess of something, but it does get a bit annoying. So I’m looking forward to seeing New Zealand embrace its talent.”

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