Homespun talent show has plenty of highlights

REASSURING: Brent Mio has a good natural style as the easygoing host.
REASSURING: Brent Mio has a good natural style as the easygoing host.

Homai Te Pakipaki Maori Television, Friday, 8.30pm.

Some have dismissed it as a glorified karaoke competition, but Homai Te Pakipaki has never aspired to reach NZ Idol-like heights of hype and popularity. At heart, it's just an hour of good fun with good people - and after tweaking its format for the latest series, it's even better.

This is the kind of talent show you get when pretty much anyone who can hold a tune can have a go, and the host is like the friendly guy next door rather than a "star" who loves drawn-out dramatic pauses.

There are no celebrity judges, either - even second-rate Auckland celebrities - and no-one doing Ten Guitars in a lazy attempt at irony.

Host Brent Mio has a good line in easygoing banter and cheesy jokes, reassuring nervous contestants that the studio audience is 100 per cent behind them, before telling them to "go on, get up there". They're a mixture of amateurs and semi-professionals - genuine, genial Kiwis, every one, and though their vocal abilities range from amazing to average, there are no drama queens or outright weirdos.

It's good to see that soul and country are still key parts of the Maori music mix, and the contestants' other selections range from recent hits to durable favourites, including the inevitable Redemption Song (though it won one guy his heat).

Homai also differs from other talent shows by holding a light-hearted prize draw contest for the studio audience while the votes are being counted. It's a better idea than having Dominic Bowden sighing and saying nothing in a vain attempt to build suspense.

Every song comes with a shout-out or five, and the names of home towns, friends and family are usually slipped into the lyrics as well. A mercilessly raw sound mix that exposes every breath and bum note means the quality of the best singers really stands out, and there are plenty of others who would be outstanding if they had a little training.

New rules this year have lifted Homai several rungs above its old karaoke format. Contestants can perform original songs, and duos and trios are allowed. They're also allowed to accompany themselves, which is a mixed blessing - viewers may need a high tolerance for the Maori strum.

After only a month, there have already been plenty of highlights. The 13-year-old warbling his way through a Rod Stewart song, with Mum singing along and shedding a tear in the audience. A well-groomed trio of retirees from Whanganui winning their heat with the waiata Maku. A singer and a gutsy guitarist with his wrist in a cast, doing a sparkling, soulful A Change Is Gonna Come.

There's also been a clutch of amazing teenage girls and young women. Second-time contestant Lavinia won her heat with an American Idol-quality Mercy, before her friend Aroha, who'd initially come along to support her, got up and impressed with her wonky sense of humour as well as her voice.

Being a show where viewer voting has the final say, however, the best acts aren't always the ones who win. But that's life, and you won't see any tears or tantrums from the also-rans - probably not until the grand final, anyway.

Goodness knows what immigrants from the old country must think of the show using "Paki" as the keyword for its text voting system, though.

The Nelson Mail