As Stan Walker bends down to take his shot across the pool table, all eyes are on him. The X Factor NZ judge knows the pressure’s on, but he takes a deep breath and steadies his hands, a look of intense focus in his eyes. That is, until fellow judge and friend Melanie Blatt leans in.
Just her presence is enough to send both singers into faint giggles, before Stan makes the hit and sinks the ball. “That was just a sneak peek,” laughs Stan (24). “Who would win in a game? Me,” he adds without hesitation, throwing a look at the former All Saints singer, who rolls her eyes.
Much like the competitive environment of the hit TV3 reality show, a simple game of pool is never easy when it’s between Stan and Mel.
The only two returning judges to the X Factor panel, alongside newcomers and husband-and-wife duo Willy Moon and Natalia Kills, the pair forged a strong bond in season one, but that doesn’t mean they will put their competitive edge on hold this year. “The thing is, when you love each other so much and you’re [that] close, you can be really horrible as well,” Mel (39) explains with a chuckle. “I think it makes it easier to be more honest,” Stan adds. “Because you still have to tip-toe around people you don’t know, but we’re honest as, eh? We’re straight up.”
It’s been a year and a half since The X Factor wrapped in April 2013, leaving Jackie Thomas the inaugural winner and judge Daniel Bedingfield the successful mentor – and it’s just as long since Stan and Mel have truly connected. While Stan was busy working on his singing and acting career – most recently filming hip-hop movie Born to Dance in Auckland – Mel was at her home in Ibiza, where she works as a DJ. She also reunited with her All Saints bandmates for a UK national arena tour with the Backstreet Boys. So, she says, it’s been hard keeping in touch, made worse by Stan’s inability to use his smartphone.
Stan explains, “I was communicating through Instagram, and Mel was messaging me through Twitter, and so we missed each other completely.” Stan even visited Mel’s hometown of London for work in 2014 and still managed to miss his fellow judge. “I hung out with her sister Jasmine, which was cool, but I was gutted that I didn’t get to see Mel.” Communication breakdown aside, distance couldn’t break their bond and it’s clear that absence has only made the heart grow fonder for these two. A big part of coming back to The X Factor was working with Stan again, after he and Mel instantly clicked while sitting next to each other during the show’s three-month run. “I don’t want him to get a big head, but I really missed him,” Mel says, giving Stan a smile.
“It’s been so good working together again. We just really got on – we’re like family.” Stan adds, “It sounds like a big call, but I don’t think I could have done this show if she didn’t do it. She’s been the bomb.” It’s a rare moment of sentimentality, and their praise for one another is short-lived as the duo – like siblings – then promptly dissolve into good-natured ribbing. As well as a similar sense of humour – “We laugh at the same things... We laugh a lot at the same people too!” Mel jokes.
Mel and Stan share a competitive spirit. They are both determined to win this year’s show, to help foster young Kiwi talent and to find the next big thing – and not to mention taking the top spot themselves this time around. “You know what Mel still runs with? It’s ‘I picked Jackie from the start to win!’” Stan jokes, alluding to Mel’s declaration that she’d “just witnessed a performance from the winner of X Factor” after Greymouth-born Jackie’s first audition. “But I did!” Mel retorts, adding, “I wouldn’t do anything differently this time around because technically I won it anyways!”
For Stan, his approach to judging in season two is to be “more straight up” with contestants, in order to give “the right people the right opportunities”. “I love developing artists – seeing them go from thinking, ‘Yeah, I can sing’ to ‘Oh, my gosh, I can create – I can be the next blah blah.’ “This year has really stepped up in terms of performances, because I think people have seen you can be a legitimate artist. There’s a stigma around The X Factor, where performers think they lose credibility, but all it does is give you more opportunities from what little you may have had before.”
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