Host with the X factor

LURED BACK TO NZ: X Factor host Dominic Bowden
LURED BACK TO NZ: X Factor host Dominic Bowden

It might be seven years since he last helped search for New Zealand's next musical star, but television host Dominic Bowden certainly hasn't been idle.

There was the short-lived, confused and much-derided Pop's Ultimate Star, the cringe-worthy Are You Smarter Than A Ten Year Old? and the wacky Dare to Win, followed by his big United States break hosting The Next Great American Band.

It was there that he first encountered entertainment impresario Simon Fuller and his sometime producing partner Simon Cowell. Although the Band format didn't earn a repeat performance, Cowell remembered Bowden and gave him an opportunity to work behind the scenes on The X Factor USA.

Some may consider that a step down the career ladder, but for 35-year-old Bowden, it was an experience that allowed him to "upskill and grow" and has set him up perfectly for his new role as the host of the first Kiwi version of the show which debuted last Sunday.

"As a host, you get to see some of the mechanics, but now I know there's so much behind the scenes that you don't see in that role," a clearly enthusiastic Bowden beams down the phone from Auckland Airport, having just flown in from an undisclosed X Factor location last week.

"I did everything, from working with the second unit to warming up the crowds, while standing on top of the New York Convention Centre. The show had a US$120 million budget [NZ$141m], but then when you see the size of America, you understand why."

Bowden believes one of the strengths of the show is that it is the vision of one man - Cowell.

"His DNA is very firmly planted in the format.

"A guy like that has a licence to do what he wants and he's one of the guys who runs the town [Los Angeles], especially in the 'non-scripted' department, which is the fancy word Americans use for reality shows.

"It was surreal to work on a show where money is not considered a factor, especially coming from New Zealand where it can be like, 'I don't think we can afford to give you lunch today'."

But while the Kiwi version certainly doesn't boast the same kind of budget, he believes viewers will be impressed by what's planned for the winners and the top five, as well as the people involved in the retreats of the four judges (Stan Walker, Ruby Frost, Daniel Bedingfield and Melanie Blatt).

"People are going to be like 'wow'," he assures.

He promises it will also have a unique Kiwi flavour.

"One of the things about the US version is it becomes such a spectacle, with the likes of Justin Bieber, Rhianna or Beyonce every week. That means the focus pulls away from what it should be - the talent. The UK show does it very well - first and foremost, front and centre are the talented performers we're putting out in front of you as we go on our way to finding a great star.

"That's how we went into it. We knew we weren't going to be able to book a Beyonce or Rhianna every week. We've been rewarded by being able to tell some incredible stories."

It will be very different from New Zealand Idol. "The depth and variety of talent is what makes X Factor great. You can have a hot boy band up against a 14-year-old girl and a 55-year-old guy with five kids - someone who has been gigging all their life and it's their last shot vying with someone for whom this is the first time they have ever sung in public.

"I think that can be really rewarding for an audience and it is very exciting to work on and be a part of."

Bowden firmly believes Kiwis will embrace the show.

"People are starved of this sort of television, celebrating their own countrymen. We absorb American culture and sometimes that can be to the detriment of us.

"The feedback I've been getting is that New Zealand is so ready for this. It's been a long time coming."

That plethora of international reality shows on our television has had one positive effect, though, says Bowden. People are far more aware of what's expected of them during the audition process.

"When we did Idol, nobody really knew what they were doing, even me. New Zealanders found it tough to be on camera and put themselves out there.

"But the one thing I'm finding here is how incredibly articulate and fully prepared particularly the younger generation are. You do still get a lot of contestants who are very green - ‘My mum told me I could sing and here I am' - but others are ready to go. They've put a lot of thought into their preparation and performance and it serves them well. We wouldn't have to do too much. With three or four tweaks, some of them could be fabulous."

One thing the show appears to have done right from the beginning is get all New Zealand involved. The first stage of the process involved the production travelling to 26 locations, where they saw 6000 people of varying quality.

It was a move Bowden fully endorses. "It was very important for us to make sure it didn't feel like a big-city exercise. For a lot of people, it's tough to say to them, 'Look, we want you to get in a car, drive up to Wellington and get accommodation'.

"We thought those kind of people would really be the heart and soul of the show and we've been rewarded with an incredible spectrum of performers we wouldn't have got if we hadn't gone as wide."

Citing Timaru as being incredibly strong talent-wise, he says he finds there's "a lot less BS" away from the larger cities.

Bowden believes, with its four-pronged format (boys under 25, girls under 25, over 25 and groups), The X Factor has something or someone to appeal to everyone.

In the latter stages of the competition, the public are going to be urged to get involved by voting for their favourites.

"I'm going to be selling the message: 'If you like someone, you've got to vote for them to stay in the competition'.

"I would also say to New Zealand, 'Get behind the format'. What we're trying to create here is someone who has the chance for musical success, someone who has the potential, with hard work and energy, to make an impact on the world stage.

"Simon [Cowell] is very focused on getting a winner who could break into the UK or the US. So, really, you're voting for someone you want to represent you internationally."

What: The X Factor NZ.

When: Sundays, 7pm, and Mondays, 7.30pm.

Where: TV3.