The moment Jackie Thomas heard her name called as winner of The X Factor New Zealand, her life changed forever.
The 22-year-old singer, who just a year ago was working at her dad’s Greymouth meat works, truly believed she couldn’t actually sing.
“X Factor has changed me,” says Jackie, who beat Christchurch crooner Whenua Patuawai and Palmerston North musician Benny Tipene in the grand final to take the title.
But it was the people closest to her who actually pushed her to audition earlier this year.
“I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I’m confident now. I can talk to people – I know I’m not crap!”
For months before entering the show, Jackie’s friends tried to persuade her to book gigs, saying she had a great voice. But the modest brunette always resisted, convinced she wasn’t good enough.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist – I don’t like putting anything out there that isn’t perfect,”she admits.
Jackie plans to stay in Auckland while she records her self-titled album – something she’s slowly coming to terms with. “Oh my God – I get to record an album. I can say that!”
The sultry singer has certainly come a long way from the girl who left Greymouth in January, and while she’s been hailed as “the town’s rainbow” by Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, she knows she couldn’t have taken out the title without the support of her mum, Donna, dad, Kevin, and brother, Jared.
“I didn’t just do it for me, I did it for them,” she says. “My family have gone to so much effort – it makes me want to cry.”
Jackie’s excitement is contagious, and she giggles at the idea of driving the new Ford Kuga that forms part of her prize, along with the treasured recording contract with Sony.
“I had a wee drive in it before I won the other week – it’s pretty awesome. I think it parallel parked itself,” she laughs.
Jackie’s X Factor journey hasn’t been easy. Knocked out of the competition in the early rounds, she was only brought back after her mentor, Daniel Bedingfield, threatened to quit the show unless she was put through to the judges’ retreat.
She says she had no idea about the amount of public backing that saw her get through to the final – and ultimately take out the grand prize.
“Why did no-one tell me I had so much support?” she asks, referring to the revelation that she topped the public vote for seven out of 10 weeks.
“I felt so frightened at the retreats, I could hardly talk. The other girls were so talented, I didn’t feel like I could even compare, so that was a huge surprise.”
She did, however, find love on the show – with gravel-voiced Tom Batchelor. While the pair have tried to play down their romance, with Jackie simply calling him her “really good friend”, Tom was beside himself with happiness at the final, and the pair are together as much as possible.
But for every upside there’s a down, and Jackie is aware she has plenty to prove.
After the lukewarm success of fellow music reality television show winners, such as Ben Lummis and Rosita Vai, she knows there are some who have already written her off – and she’s fine with that.
“They can compare me to whoever they want,” she says. “All that negative stuff has nothing to do with your success. The old me couldn’t have handled it. Now, I don’t care.”
However, Jackie has a lot of hard work ahead. Her album is due out on August 9, but her most pressing task is to say thank you to family.
“If I could, I’d jump in the Kuga right now to pick up Mum and Dad and take them for ice cream,” she says, before being whisked off to another interview.
“For now, I’m just going to enjoy this. I’m excited, I’m ready. Watch me.”
Photos: Michelle Hyslop • Styling: Tamzyn Elliot • Hair & Make-up: Kate Smith • Clothing: Jackie wears TK store dress. Jackie wears Ketz-Ke dress, Mi Piaci shoes and Zoe & Morgan jewellery • Location: Abbeyville Estate, Auckland.