Sidestepping the NZ Idol curse

ON SONG: Former New Zealand Idol contestant Jesse O'Brien sings with his band Grace Falls along with keyboard player Paul Smith, drummer Blair Dowling and bass player Jared Harper.
KELLY HODEL/Waikato Times
ON SONG: Former New Zealand Idol contestant Jesse O'Brien sings with his band Grace Falls along with keyboard player Paul Smith, drummer Blair Dowling and bass player Jared Harper.

Self-confessed "has-been that never was" Jesse O'Brien has managed to sidestep what he calls the New Zealand Idol curse.

When the Hamilton man spoke with the Waikato Times in 2006, after finishing fourth in the television show's second season, he was a youth pastor at Elim Church.

At the time he was still bathing in the afterglow of his short-lived stint in the national spotlight. But, like the show, it's history. And he knows it. "In terms of profile it really launched me; one moment no one knew who I was, next thing they did."

Strangers on the street would yell "Hey, you're that guy from TV". But the Idol worship stopped quickly.

"There is a very big fade-off thing. When Idol finished I had no grand delusions of `Okay, right, this is it, this is all I need to make it in the music business'.

"The bottom line is we're never going to have that sort of exposure again, in somebody's lounge two nights a week on prime time TV."

O'Brien sympathised with those who had succumbed to the Idol "curse".

"The criticism from some people is pretty harsh in terms of, where are they now? But at the same time I fully understand that. Then you look at someone like Michael Murphy who's done really well giving it a crack with his band Five Star Fallout. But he'll always have a stigma of sorts."

Those Idol days are now long behind O'Brien, but they also helped inspire him to confidently dive into his music as a passion and a career. Two years ago, with his wife Cat and three children supporting the move, he resigned from the pastor position and took a job at Shearer's Music Works in Hamilton. He was also doing solo gigs, such as singing at Chris Cairns' wife's birthday, but that scene didn't appeal.

"I wanted to be in a band that kicks some serious ... bottom."

That's where Dean Taylor-Levey, a quiet Liverpudlian, came into the equation. He was watching a documentary about an English family moving to Tauranga and decided to do the same.

After the big shift, Taylor-Levey and O'Brien's paths crossed at a recording studio. The pair hit it off and along with Hamilton's Blair Dowling from More FM, Jared Harper and Paul Smith, the band Grace Falls was formed late last year.

Since then they've played a number of live shows, the most recent being at Diggers Bar in Hamilton. They've recorded a soon-to-be-released album the release night gig is earmarked for a Diggers bash too. A music video is taking shape. The Grace Falls myspace.com page has also had over 300,000 plays.

"We seem to be regularly in the top 10 of MySpace unsigned artists," O'Brien said.

"One day I looked at it and there was us at number one on Unsigned. Number one on Independent was The Flight of the Conchords and number one on Major was Savage."

O'Brien said he felt the "stars are aligning" after the major change in direction in his life and credited New Zealand Idol with helping kick-start a career in music.

"I like people close to me to know that I was willing to give it a go, even if I failed miserably, because you never know what opportunities are going to come.

"That's one thing the Idol experience taught me. Who on earth would have thought I was going to be on TV? You know, flip, it blows my mind."

Waikato Times