Popstars panel tells all: Rock regrets, secret crushes and dad jokes!

What really happened when Vince, Kimbra and Nathan joined forces for their reality reboot.

By Sebastian van der Zwan
When new Popstars panellists Kimbra, Nathan King and Vince Harder were first assembled in one room about two months ago, there was a lot of fangirling going on.
"To be completely honest, I was buzzing out over Nathan because I was a big fan of Zed when I was young," confesses Kimbra, 31, who'd just escaped managed isolation after flying in from her home in New York. "That was my era when I lived in New Zealand. I had a crush on him, but don't worry – I've told his wife and she's fine with it!"
"She thinks it's just beautiful," laughs Nathan, 42, adding that he and Vince had collaborated on a track a few years back.
"So I knew him a little, but I was excited to take it to the next level."
"Yeah, we'd hung out at his house and kept in touch afterwards, but we didn't actually see each other again until we were doing this, so it was awesome to reconnect," continues Vince, 38. "And obviously I'd followed Kimbra's music and seen her on TV, but when I saw her in person, I was like, 'Wow!' I was hoping that we'd get to jam together."
In the months since, the pair have indeed been working on some tunes in the studio – and all three have formed a firm friendship, bonding over the struggles they've faced on their paths to stardom and the many emotional moments that come while mentoring young Kiwi musicians on the TVNZ 2 reality series.
They're easing me back into the world," says Kimbra after almost a year of isolation.
"We're BBFs for life now," smiles Nathan. "We connect on a spiritual level. We've all had our own different journeys, but we understand each other."
"There have definitely been lots of deep-and-meaningfuls," nods Kimbra. "But there are also a lot of dad jokes and fart jokes too!"
Yes, the Hamilton-born singer may have won two Grammys and topped the charts in more than 30 countries with her mega-hit Somebody That I Used To Know, but she insists, "I'll always be
a girl from the Tron!"
Her love of Kiwi cuisine was on display when Nathan hosted a barbecue at his home. "We had kūmara!" she enthuses. "You can't get that in America – sweet potato just isn't the same."
"Don't forget to talk up my grill skills!" the Zed frontman warns.
"Oh, yeah, he had the Weber out and put this massive slab of lamb straight on the charcoal," says R&B singer and producer Vince, who's best-known for his 2008 number one Everything. "I love meat! You know exactly how I like it."
"I seared that puppy!" confirms Nathan, adding that the three of them have also been checking out the local music scene by going to gigs, including a recent Harper Finn concert.
"After a year of being completely locked down in New York, that was my first time out in a public environment for ages," recalls Kimbra, who spent much of last year isolating by herself in a Big Apple apartment after contracting COVID-19 in March 2020. "It was wild to be going out for a drink without a mask. I was like, 'Woah!' I've been trying to do that as much as possible since."
"We've been her chaperones," says Nathan.
Smiling, Kimbra adds, "Yeah, they're easing me back into the world!"
"We connect on a spiritual level," says Nathan of working with Kimbra.
When asked about their memories of the original Popstars series – which created the girl group TrueBliss in 1999 and was franchised in more than 50 countries worldwide – all three panellists break into song: "Tonight's the night we make love till the end…"
"We always go for the same harmony!" laughs Kimbra, going on to list all the members of TrueBliss. Nodding, Vince says, "I remember the girls lining up to audition in front of the cameras."
The series evolved into the Pop Idol juggernaut, which later spawned shows like The X Factor and The Voice, forever changing the worlds of TV and music. "It's insane how it morphed into so many different formats," marvels Nathan. "It's
a real credit to the insight of producer Jonathan Dowling, who created the first series."
Do they think it's been a positive influence on the music industry? "Not always," muses Kimbra. "One of the downfalls was that there was too much focus on the drama and stage performance. The people who come out of these shows are so defined by the experience and then they have to prove themselves beyond the show. That's where the real hard work begins."

The new Popstars will be different, she insists. "The elimination process is done gracefully. We didn't want to humiliate anyone on primetime television. We're not blowing smoke, but we want to respect everyone for having the courage to put themselves in front of a national audience.
"We're also equipping artists for a long career. That means making sure they have good mental health when they go on tour, that they know how to hold themselves in the studio, and that they're aware of the pressures and demands of the industry. In those early years, I wish someone had taught me more about the business."
"Absolutely, with mentorship, I would've made some very different decisions," agrees Nathan, whose band Zed clocked up eight top-20 hits, including Renegade Fighter and Glorafilia, in the early 2000s. "A lot of it is about doing the inner work. Once I achieved a certain level of success, all the classic trappings of rock 'n' roll came with it.
Chart-topper Vince is looking for a star who has Everything!
"For better or worse, you choose a road, and while there's a certain amount of healthy abandonment and letting loose in your formative years, you've got to know when that stops and doing damage to yourself begins. Some of the people I knew in the industry at the time really hurt themselves and they're still dealing with the consequences. It's really sad to see."
All three of them are excited that the show will touch on mental health, sexism and racism in the music world.
Kimbra says, "We hope we can be a small part of something that moves the conversation forward, so we feel like we're doing more than just making TV."
"These are issues that weren't seen as very rock 'n' roll 20 years ago," adds dad-of-three Nathan, "but it's very much part of the culture now and that awareness is really healthy."And despite the format's international reach, they're keen to keep Popstars feeling very Kiwi.
"Everything we're doing is uniquely New Zealand," says Kimbra. "It's such a celebration of our music scene."
Can we expect to see all three of the panellists performing together? "Well, I don't know about starting a band, but we are going to have our own TikTok account," grins Kimbra.
"Vince has been teaching us how to do it – he's such a great dancer," adds Nathan. "We've got to catch ourselves because I think we're having too much fun."
And they insist the fun will continue after Popstars finishes, with plans for a big party at Kimbra's home in New York when borders finally open. "You're so welcome – and all the kids too!" she declares.
Grinning, father-of-two Vince adds, "I hope you've got all the guest toothbrushes laid out!"

read more from