Rene working on his terms

CHRIS RENE: Commercially speaking, New Zealand is his biggest market.
CHRIS RENE: Commercially speaking, New Zealand is his biggest market.

Chris Rene thinks two weeks is a long time to spend at home these days.  It's a far cry from the world the 29-year-old was in just over a year ago; 70 days out of rehab, clean of drink and drugs and learning how to be sober again.

Then he auditioned for X Factor.

It was a choice that changed his life at a time where change was all ready all around him. It was also a choice that, like getting clean, proved to be a winner.

While Rene didn't win the American singing show - he came third - he has gone on to release chart-topping singles and his debut album. And it turns out, commercially speaking, New Zealand is his biggest market.

That means travelling the world for weeks at a time - his longest break was those perfect two weeks at home. But making the decision to enter the topsy-turvy world of reality TV was all about taking chances and living without regret.

"The reason why I went on the X Factor at that time in my life is because I made the decision. If I go on with my life and I look back I don't want to say 'I wish I would have done that, because something could have happened'," he said during his first New Zealand visit.

"And it's amazing - I am proof that dreams do come true, just go up there, leave it all up there and it's possible."

From the beginning of his ride on the show, Rene made it clear he wasn't going to change for anyone.

While most contestants auditioned with cover versions of Adele or Whitney Houston, he went with that original song about re-learning how to be a grown up, the one that has gone on to hit number one in New Zealand and saturated radio playlists.

It was a risk, but one that paid off, with the show's most notorious mentor, Simon Cowell reportedly claiming Rene was his personal favourite throughout the competition.

"Being able to come out there with Young Homie, and to be myself and say 'hey look man, I'm not going to go in and do any cover songs because that's not what I do, leave that to everybody else. It's not for Chris Rene'. To do that was the most beautiful thing ever, it's what got me to where I'm at, my originality and the gift I've been given... to do the things I do."

And unlike many singers on shows like X Factor, Rene said he managed to negotiate the choppy reality waters and, for the most part, maintain who he was on the show.

"I was able to get my genuine self across on the show. When it comes to the stylists and the 'hey, wear this, you'll look great in this', sure that changed and it was cool. But I bended and I played the game, I played a role and it was cool to be diverse.

"But when it comes to recording and making music, when it comes to me, you want to make something that's true and that's going to help and inspire people, as well as entertainment and songs about girls. You want to make it fun. So to be able to have written on the album and to be a part of that creative process was the best."

Rene knows he's a role model these days, a person that proves nothing is too hard to overcome. His fans call themselves Renelites, and they are crazy about him and about his story. But he believes inspiration is a cycle.

"I think it's cool that in the history of mankind, that people get inspired by each other. For me to be someone who inspired millions is a blessing of course, and I just want to continue and be inspired by other people just as much."

Auckland Now