Our Benny on rollercoaster journey
Palmerston North breathed a collective sigh of relief last night as city musician Benny Tipene survived another week on X Factor NZ.
In the bottom two of the television talent show for the first time, Tipene outlasted the Robert Plant-channelling Cantabrian Tom Batchelor with an Elvis Presley love song he has been playing at Palmerston North weddings for years - Can't Help Falling in Love.
After surviving last night's elimination show, the angsty, charming, guitar-strumming prodigy is potentially five weeks away from taking out the New Zealand-wide competition.
Since he was told by the show's judges nearly two months ago that he could be an international star, Tipene has gained an immense following of giggling teenage girls.
He connects with them daily through updates on his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.
It's provided adulation on a scale that he wasn't prepared for.
"I hate that people have to pay to vote," he told the Manawatu Standard.
"I know there was one girl who voted for me 50 times one week and paid $50 or $60 to do that.
"I feel really bad, I mean jeez, the billpayers are taking a hacking.
"I didn't expect it to get as big as it did."
As a Freyberg High School graduate, Tipene is determined, despite his newfound fame, to stay true to his Palmerston North roots.
It's something he reinforces to audiences continually throughout the show.
"The biggest thing for me is that I don't lose myself in the competition.
"You have to keep being humble, remember yourself.
"I love Palmy and I will never turn my back on it. I think you shouldn't forget where you come from."
Part of where he comes from is The Nerines, the band he was and is part of. They are now scattered through Wellington, Palmerston North and, in Tipene's case, Auckland.
Since the alternative-sounding Tipene began standing on stage with just a microphone and guitar, he's carved a niche of his own.
He has also written music prodigiously and he wants to share his originals with the world.
It is why he went on X Factor to begin with.
"I think alternative artists need to get over it with shows like this," he said. "It's such a good platform for any musician.
"When I signed up for this I was worried I would have to do songs I wouldn't want to do, but Ruby Frost [his mentor] has been great to work with and there's been none of that so far."
At times Tipene feels like he is on a rollercoaster, and he is hoping to have a few months of "just chilling" back home once it is all over, although a New Zealand tour is likely.
"I haven't been back to Palmy in seven weeks and I'm missing my mates and my moccachino and muffin in the morning.
"But you only get three months max here and I keep telling myself that. It's doing so much more for me as a musician than just being at home."