Tom Batchelor is grinning from ear to ear the morning after his elimination from The X Factor NZ.
The 22-year-old doesn’t care that he missed out on the prize of a recording contract and a car, because he’s won something far better – the heart of a fellow contestant.
“The best prize is Jackie [Thomas],” he says, with a smile.
“She’s the cutest, coolest girl on the planet. I think all of New Zealand wants to date her – not just me!”
Reports that Leeston-raised Tom and Jackie (22) were an item heated up last week, when eliminated contestant Anna Wilson called them “the lovebirds” in a radio interview.
While the pair are trying to keep their relationship quiet as the show is still on air, Tom has never been happier.
“I’m bloody fantastic, actually,” he says, as he bounces along Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter.
“I got so much further in the competition than I ever thought, and I went out on a massive high, singing Whole Lotta Love. I was stoked. And I didn’t take someone else’s place. I would have felt guilty. It wouldn’t have been right.”
The audience was on tenterhooks when the three contestants left on stage last Monday were Tom, Jackie and Benny Tipene – but Tom’s mum, Cathy Kewish, reveals he had a plan if it came down to him and Jackie.
“He said to me on the weekend, ‘If it’s me and Jackie left, I’m walking off,’” Cathy says.
“He told me he wasn’t going to put her through that and he’d leave the competition so she could stay in. He’s a true gentleman.”
While Cathy approves of her son’s new relationship, she says the fact he’s managed to stay true to his quirky, individual self throughout the competition has made her proud.
“The Tom you saw on The X Factor NZ – that’s him to a tee,” Cathy laughs. “He’s completely mental, that’s true, but he’s fantastic. Nothing’s changed.”
“I don’t know who else I could have been,” Tom chimes in. “I’m just me.”
He didn’t do too badly in the competition, considering he only entered the hit TV3 show because he lost a bet.
“I was playing bass for my dad’s band in the pub, and someone said I couldn’t make it through the first round of auditions,” Tom explains. “I’d had a couple of beers, so of course I said, ‘Bet you I can!’ And I did. And I’ve just kept going along for the ride.”
It’s typical Tom, says Cathy, who admits that parenting her “special” boy has presented some unique challenges.
“Tom was never naughty,” Cathy says. “Just funny. Like the time he and his mates were watching a Steve Irwin documentary where they were tagging and releasing animals, and Tom thought it would be funny to tag and release the new kids at the college. “He and his friends – they were 17 – would hide in the bushes, jump out, grab a Year Seven kid, write “tagged” on their forehead and release them. But one of them cried, so they got in trouble.”
And there was the time Tom, a huge Forrest Gump fan, decided to re-enact the lawn-mower scene from the movie at his high school, Ellesmere College.
“It was dress-up day and he went as Forrest Gump,” Cathy remembers.
“But he also pinched the groundsman’s ride-on mower and mowed the entire field. The best part was that the teachers were so used to him, they just let him do it.”
Although Tom’s antics keep Cathy on her toes, she and her youngest son – he has an older brother, Travis, and older sister, Nicola – have a tight bond.
“We’re real close,” Tom says. “Mum had to put up with me for 22 years – she’s an all-right chick. I get my coolness from her.”
But one thing Cathy can’t stand is Tom’s beloved fur coat – and the majority of his wardrobe.
“Oh God, that thing is hideous!” Cathy exclaims.
“I bought him some lovely Kathmandu jumpers last Christmas and they’re still hanging in the closet. But that’s Tom. What can I do?”
“I love this coat,” defends Tom. “And there’s heaps of other things mum doesn’t like. But she loves me all the same!”
Now he’s left the show, Tom is planning to stay in Auckland and is on the hunt for a flat.
“I’m just happy to be up here, with this awesome experience behind me,” he says. And, of course, it’s closer to Jackie – who also moved to the city for more music experience.
“Mmmm,” he says, with the same coy smile. “It is, isn’t it!”