The X Factor Firings: The Conspiracy Theory

When was the last time a reality TV show really took the country by, er, storm and had everyone talking about it?

That’s right, it’s probably NZ Idol 1 back in 2004. 11 years ago.

Yesterday, The X Factor NZ planned to change that and getting everyone around the world talking about reality TV once again.

The show kicked off with a little easter egg. Dominic Bowden said:

“It’s time for our very own four chair challenge as we attempt to fill these seats with four of the most fearsome, megalomaniacs in the business. The only difference is, we can’t swap them out… yet.”

Like always on these shows, they save the best performance for the end. This time, it wasn’t the final contestant’s performance setting the internet alight: it was the judges.

Yesterday, Natalia Kills and Willy Moon played the role of the villain judges perfectly. They said horrific, abusive, bullying comments to the sweetest guy on the show, who wears his heart on his sleeve. Their lines were delivered without hesitation and had obviously been written down and rehearsed.

They said comments which were completely undebatable – there was nothing in there which could be argued over. If they’d said the contestant was boring or didn’t have the X Factor, the script wouldn’t have worked. The comments were so absurd and awful that it was clearly a case where they had to be fired.

The comments were set up utterly perfectly for the multitude of viral memes showing all the ways that Natalia Kills and Willy Moon were copying other artists. They do this more than most people. I couldn’t have thought of as many Melanie Blatt or Stan Walker copycat memes.

Getting the public to vote off a judge is the ultimate twist, especially when they think it wasn’t part of the script.

The plot was hinted at much earlier, with Natalia swearing during auditions and Willy Moon easily finding a woman to play the role of the offended mother in a public bakery. It was deliberately enflamed by Natalia showing no remorse and even saying she was enjoying the attention after the show.

In their statement, MediaWorks says the pair will “leave the show” and Fremantle says they were “removed”… They were eliminated like one of the contestants. Their statements didn’t say the pair were “fired”.

“Firing” the judges has made headlines all around the world and got rival networks covering the story in their news. In a day and age when ratings are slipping lower and lower, there’s more desperate measures taken to get people tuning in. Manipulating the media is the game.

Even if the ratings are low, the show has given huge publicity to their sponsors outside of the ad breaks (which few of us watch anyways). They come across as the good guys: stomping out bullying. New Zealand media have been talking about the sponsors today. I never knew who they were before, now I do.

If this is all true and the script was to have villain judges fired from the start, I don’t feel played. This is the most intense a reality show has felt since NZ Idol 1.

Now that the pair have “left” the show, they are quite silent. That’s interesting in and of itself.

There’s three options I can think of for this: either they’ve finished their role and have been paid to keep quiet about it all from this day forth, or they are lawyering up, or are about to sell their “exclusive” story to the highest bidders.

Very few people would be in on this script. Mel and Stan have authentic roles to play and couldn’t be in on it – they needed to be outraged and get onto Twitter and Instagram and respond to the fans.

The new judges will be lovely and positive and not the surprise casting that Natalia and Willy were. A sneak preview of them were likely seen in the judges retreats this year.

Tell me this is a silly conspiracy theory and why, or tell me pieces to add to this theory.

Subscribe to our mailing list

About the author

Co-founder of Throng. Favourite TV shows recently: Homeland and The Newsroom.
More from this author »

  • Tania

    Ooooh I love a good conspiracy theory! And in all honesty, when I saw the news footage of Natalia in her big hat, turning her head away as her car sped off tonight, I immediately thought I smelt a rat. It just seemed so … staged. Yeah it was bad, and I still think she’s a nasty troll, but was it really worth sacking them over? Simon Cowell has said far worse things. The Herald / Bakery lady are probably in on it all too. It’s in Mediaworks’ interests to ensure this very expensive production is a ratings success; what better way to do that than a major meltdown by the judges, a story that will definitely be picked up worldwide? Seeing Mark Weldon go into the meeting with them too – what? – does he not have better things to do with his time?! Willie and Natalia will come out of it okay – they’ll sell their story to a rag in a few months’ time about how they were stressed, etc., and rise from the ashes. I bet the motel linen auction was a set-up too – it mysteriously disappeared before the auction finished, after all. And most celebs wouldn’t bother to comment on the auction – unlike Natalia.

    • I did wonder about that sheets story too. Was rather odd! I am yet to see Natalia on the news, thanks for that.

      • Bob

        And Hilary Barry’s Tweets are being promoted in news stories too – the blue tick, her scolding Natalia – people are bound to look her up (Hilary) to see who she is and hey, what do you know she has a new show coming on soon. Great publicity for that too. Why is Hilary even allowed to tweet about the show? Joanna Hunkin got into trouble for doing it when she worked @ TVNZ and tweeted about NZ’s Got Talent.

        • Mm, it had so many RT and favourites – I rarely see that sort of number within NZ.

    • Harrison

      Which channel’s news?

    • Gdub_NZ

      Your post is just rubbish. I have enjoyed your previous contributions but this one is just stupid speculation based on no facts.

  • Alastair Thompson

    Not silly. You have nailed it. And suddenly a story which I found exceedingly tedious and a little excruciating has become interesting. Thankyou Rachel.

  • fabrangi

    It doesn’t matte to me as I have no tv. Still no idea who the sponsors are.

    • But for some reason you’re intrigued to read a conspiracy theory 🙂

  • An observation from @jerry247sp on Twitter: why does Joe cry all the time except for *then*?

    • Bob

      Ha ha – yes. Precisely! Although The Daily Fail did report his lip was trembling, all I saw was him smiling.

    • Harrison

      Mel said that she picked up in dress rehearsal that they were probably going to say something bad so she warned him about it

    • Mark

      I think he, along with everyone else thought she was joking to begin with and was going to bring it back around. But she kept going on. He certainly didn’t look to be enjoying it but due to Mels forewarning of him of Nat & Willie probably giving hkm negative comments kept him together for the moment. But when all the contestants were back on the stage at the end of the show with Dom, Joe was no where to be seen. He would have been in pieces back stage.

      • Jasmine

        I’m also not entirely sure he understood it was a barrage of insults at first.. I for one thought Natalia was making an awkward elongated joke at the start, so perhaps his reaction to it was delayed until after he fully comprehended that she was having a go at him.

  • Tania

    Here’s my prediction: The ex-judges’ assistants (who picked the top three) will get the judging roles – Benny Tipene and whomever helped Willie. Mind you, that would be more plausible had Benny not criticised the show in his tweet. Otherwise, Nicole Appleton will come back (Nicole? The one who helped Mel – career is on a downturn and split from husband a while ago so would probably like a change of scene). Or maybe even Kasey Chambers, who supported The Eagles so just happens to be over here.

    • Benny Tipene and Ginny Blackmore?

      • x

        Doubtful that it would be Benny Tipene. He was a contestant last season. I am sure they could find another NZ male artist. Or go Ginny and Anika Moa!

  • Cassie

    Who knows what is genuine and what is contrived these days. Making horrific abusive bullying comments to purposely attack someones credibility or attract attention, as part of a hidden agenda, is unfortunately not uncommon – people like Cameron Slater apparently make a living out of it.

    • The more I know about TV, the more I know there’s very little which isn’t contrived.

      • Brooke

        You know enough to know there’s ZERO chance this is manufactured.

        It’s an entertaining theory, but having worked at that network for over ten years, and with many of the crew on that show, AND in the same department I can 100% confirm there’s no conspiracy. They’re good people who were just as disgusted as everyone else with the douchebagery exhibited by the KillMoons. Most had a sleepless night last night putting out fires with the sponsors { who would have had to have been in on it taking the amount of people in on it to in the hundreds }

        The TV Guide just proves that KillsMoons were dicks and wouldn’t do press / TV Guide didn’t want them. Wait, no, TV guide was in on it too. 😉

        Just be happy that the bad guys lost for once!! No conspiracy, just a nice country that doesn’t suffer that kind of bullying.

        • jake

          Yeah but to be fair the majority of the staff would not have been told if it had been planned.. only those at the top who need to be in the know!

        • Very, very few people would be in on it and certainly not the sponsors.

        • bc

          Brooke, you are awesome. You have given me a new word to use – douchebagery!

      • Bravo

        The more I know about the internet, the more I know that a “plausible” conspiracy theory brings ratings to the site.

  • Jake

    Check out TV Guide printed before Sundays episode went to air… convenient that the X Factor cover features Mel Blatt, Stan Walker and Dominic Bowden but excludes Natalia Kills and Willy Moon?

  • Brooke Chook

    NZ producers are too dumb to pull off something like that. Plus all the controversy has been a ratings disaster for them, not to mention damaging for the brand. LOL

    • I think it’s too early to tell if it’s a ratings disaster. In the end, ratings matter only for selling ads and if the sponsors are getting heaps of publicity, isn’t that all they are after?

      • Jasmine

        Also, while I’ve posted it before on this site, the ratings posted on Throng can be misleading as they only deal with average audiences. While X Factor appears to be rating low 5+, it is performing well in core demographics, and it repeatedly wins over network rival Our First Home.

      • Brooke Chook

        I can think of about 100 better ways to do it. Not to mention I know a few people who work on the show and i’ve heard Kills and Moon are getting legal advice about their sacking. The whole thing is way too bizzare to be thought up by producers. It took the minds of two complete narcissists speaking their horrible mind.

        • I’m not sure I can think of 100 ways to get headlines all around the world about a TV show as it has to be pretty out there these days.

  • Jasmine

    Interesting article, but fails to acknowledge perhaps the biggest byproduct of Kills’ behaviour: her musical career. With limited commercial success thus far, in spite of an impressive songwriting CV and a signing by Will.I.Am, this would’ve been the perfect way to launch new music to a smaller market then take it internationally in the hopes of achieving greater visibility. She’s all but eradicated any chance at future chart success in NZ, and with the rest of the world gaining wind of the story, that no doubt tarnishes her image.

    • Mm, a good topic to consider. Did Kayne’s career ultimately get harmed by his comments to Taylor Swift at the VMA’s? Does chart success in NZ mean anything financially these days as compared to say the UK or the US where they live?

      • Jasmine

        True, but she’s put out two albums that have predominantly failed to chart in most territories (or at least in really abysmal positions). I’m guessing her (and Willy) had a (completely understandable) ulterior motive in joining the judging panel, which was to push their new music. Maybe start with NZ, enjoy some success, use that as a launching pad to try re-crack the US and UK. It’s not like she had anything to lose.

        • That could be the case. Alternatively, they could have liked being paid to play a role on a TV show and have some time checking out his homeland together after only recently being married … and then making headlines around the world to get exposure prior to launching albums internationally…

      • Dr Evil

        Kanye made sure he was hugely successful before he started acting like a dick. Natalia can’t be compared to Kanye. She doesn’t have that many fans to spare.

  • Grabate

    I don’t think this is an X-Gateor conspiracy as there’s too high a chance for it to backfire. If Joe was in on it that would cause a whole other uproar. If not then the judges were told to bully him which would put the anto bullying crowd into a frenzy and badly damage the brand, especially with the sponsors. Conspiracy or not, MediaWorks will be celebrating tonight over how this has turned out.

    • I think very, very few people would be in on the script to have get fired.

  • PMK

    Given the recent news items regarding reality show contestants on the network, the last thing TV3 needs is to raise further concerns for their clients. Not all publicity is good publicity if it means losing a large chunk of revenue from an already small pot. Before the late afternoon announcement, there were a number of contracts sitting at the shredding machine.

    In such cases, if the comments were to be scripted, there would have been more guidance from the powers that be. It was clear there was no guidance, only a dialogue that was formulated at the start of the performance having noticed a small resemblance to a certain judges music video. If anything, the two eX-judges would relishing the publicity, in their world of naively believing that they’re bigger than jeebus.

    However, if it is in the interest of Mediaworks to hire potty mouthed Brits with a lack of constructing relevant purposeful critique for shock value, Jeremy Clarkson may be looking for work. Same channel, different day…

  • Jack

    For what it’s worth Mel said in an interview on The Edge this morning that she told Joe beforehand to be prepared for some negative comments from those two because from rehearsals she had a feeling they were going to go after him.

    I don’t think there is any conspiracy though. I’m sure TV3 knew they were getting two judges that would probably give them controversy, but having to sack them at this point is more embarrassing than anything. Plus if it got out it would be toxic for the TV3 and X Factor brands. If you look at the first incident in rehearsals when Natalia abused the audience, and then when Willy swore at the lady in the stop, those types of negative controversies don’t help the show and are more likely to turn people off. If anything I just think the two judges are crazy and have thrown away their careers rather than being part of an elaborate scheme that would have to involve powerful executives in Mediaworks. Would those bosses really put their whole careers and reputations on the line for one show to rate slightly better?

    • Kyle Wadsworth

      I totally, totally agree. I don’t believe there’s a conspiracy here. Not this time.

  • not a wild hera

    My cousin is the ‘Auckland mother’ (hate how the Herald kept referring to her in that sexist manner) from the bakery. Definitely not in on the act, just so you know – though that doesn’t mean Moon wasn’t looking for trouble!

    • Thanks! I would never think she was in on it. Yes what did “mother” have to do with it except paint him as more of a villain I guess..

      • not a wild hera

        Sure – other commenters below were speculating on whether she was involved, so I just thought I’d add my inside info 🙂

        Looking forward to seeing what this does for ratings over next few weeks.

    • CC

      ICK The word MOTHER was so random and unnecessary?? And sexist – so wrong. Doubt if it was a man, he would be referred to at “Auckland Father…”

  • On Willy Moon’s Instagram page one week ago, he posts a picture saying “Selfie”:

    Is that a hint at the doppelgänger comments to come?

  • PositivelyNegative

    I don’t know if it was a set up, but I do think it was some instructing that went out of hand. I think Kills and Moon were told as part of their role as the heels to “say something edgy” to try and combat the rankings debacle, but it backfired, with them going beyond the script into quite possibly the worst improvisation seen on NZ television in a long time.

    But if it were a conspiracy, I do think there was very little put in the way of planning, this was not a well executed, deliberate, ploy, which somewhat made it more believable, but terribly handled.

    It was played fast, loose, and with very little forethought. I’m suspecting the producers were told within the last day or two (maybe three,) to do something, or they might not have their own jobs. If this is the case, I’m suspecting they told Mills and Boon that since they’ve already been paid, they’d have to fall on the swords…

    Of course, all this will not amuse Simon Cowell and the X-Factor brand people no end, so I’m guessing no series three at this point…

  • On Willy Moon’s Instagram page this afternoon, he posts this:

    It’s a photo of Malcolm McLaren. Why did he post this? What does it mean?

    Two interesting things from Wikipedia:

    “Malcolm Robert Andrew McLaren (22 January 1946 – 8 April 2010[1]) was aBritish musician, impresario, visual artist, performer, clothes designer and boutique owner, notable for combining these activities in an inventive and provocative way.”

    “In April 2013 a headstone was placed on McLaren’s grave featuring the slogan “Better a spectacular failure, than a benign success”, a misquote of McLaren’s claim that the best advice he received came from an art-school teacher: “It is better to be a flamboyant failure than any kind of benign success”.”

    • PositivelyNegative

      Also, he was famous for manufacturing his own controversies, e.g. The Sex Pistols…

  • My next question: was it a conspiracy of two?

    • x

      what do you mean by this?

      • A plan by Willy Moon and Natalia Kills to get global exposure.

        • Roger Dodger

          I can see this being their plan more than I can believe this was TV3’s plan.

          • Roger Dodger

            and wouldn’t it be kind of brilliant?

  • bc

    Well this is a lot of fun, 56 comments and counting. Well into double digits, Throng will explode!
    Good for a bit of a laugh, but there is no way TV3 would pull this stunt. If true, it treats its viewers as pawns, way too cynical even for media types. And if it ever got out …
    Still there’s plenty of people that believe the moon landing was a hoax, 9/11 was done by the US government etc, so I guess this conspiracy theory is as good as any!

  • Harrison

    Is Shelton Woolright from I Am Giant the new groups mentor?

  • AlexHD

    From the footage we’ve seen of Natalia, she looks like she’s pretty smart, or at least not an idiot. It’s impossible to believe that she would be so daft as to spontaneously erupt into vitriol against Joe with the unjustifable argument that Joe was copying Willy Moon.

    There are multiple possibilities here:

    1) Everyone in the production was in on it. Highly unlikely given the chance of leaks and the realistic nature of Stan, Joe, and Dominic’s reaction.

    2) It was heavily implied by the producers that Willy and Natalia would bully Joe, allowing Mel to advise Joe that they would be going after him (while maintaining plausible deniability at the specifics of what would be said) and allowing Joe to steel himself for the criticism (note how he stays stoic throughout). This leads to two possible outcomes:

    2a) Natalia went way too far with what was supposed to be ad-libbed (but still tolerable) criticism in order to paint her as the “bad” judge, but this backfired, causing the social media outcry and forcing MediaWorks to reluctantly fire their judges. I would call this the most likely outcome. The risk of losing sponsorship is just way too large.

    2b) Natalia and Willy’s attack and subsequent sacking were all planned by the producers. The fans end up happy, the sponsors end up happy, and everyone is talking about the X Factor drama and exicted about the new judges. But what kind of young celebrity would knowingly sign up for a process which ends with a whole country despising them?

    3) Willy and Natalia deliberately tanked their judge roles by planning an attack on Joe, without producer knowledge. Either due to them no longer wanting to be on the show for any reason (eg conflict with producers), or as some twisted publicity stunt using the small NZ market as the sacrifice for a bigger global profile.

    4) Willy and Natalia are actually that crazy, and became genuinely disgusted at Joe’s presentation. Highly unlikely, it would be out of character for both judges, and happen on too many coincidences (such as Joe being last to perform).

    • Roger Dodger

      I think it is most likely 2A or 3 but I can see the plausibility of 2B but I don’t want to believe it haha

    • Thank you for a fantastic list of options. My current feeling is it was #3 as a publicity stunt, given Willy Moon and Natalia’s Instagram posts, especially the one of Malcolm McLaren.

      Also possible it is a Moon/Kills/SyCo stunt – them playing a role to get headlines for The X Factor worldwide.

      • Kyle Wadsworth

        3 sounds very realistic

        • Kyle Wadsworth

          Yeah. The world knows her name now, as Stan put it.

    • K

      I think 3 is the most likely too. I just don’t think producers would be involved. Too risky given unpredictable MoonKills are

  • Harrison


    • Roger Dodger

      Is that Behind the Scenes? It would be awesome if Anika Moa worked with the guys, and Shelton is a drummer but possibly a vocalist too like Phil Collins?

      • Harrison

        Nope. Brooke Howard-Smith

      • Harrison

        That’s what I’m guessing, however I’m very concerned that the guy doesn’t have a clue about country music, which could mean trouble for my favourite act

    • ash

      Bullsh*t its ginny and rory

      • Roger Dodger

        It is not Rory.

  • Roger Dodger

    Pretty crazy when even Ed Sheeran is tweeting Joe Irvine!

    • Harrison


  • Harrison

    “Their lines were delivered without hesitation and had obviously been written down and rehearsed.” Apparently they have a dress rehearsal where co comments can be said to the contestants so they probably put them into their ipads/tablets

  • J.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The only thing real about reality tv is the audience and they are manipulated. Everything else can be and is scripted. Sorry fans 🙁

  • Lisa-Li

    Natalia’s comments were too ridiculous and ignorant to ‘not’ be for the purpose of creating controversy and media attention to herself and Willy. She of course knows that Joe’s look and every other contestant is created by a team of stylists and wardrobe personal. Attacking Joe for such an inane and senseless reason and to ‘act’ so ‘highly’ offended for something that wouldn’t have been of Joe’s making, made me think she is either the thickest person on television OR she and Moon did it, to get themselves off the show in the most dramatic fashion possible. It was staged completely. She sounded scripted and had obviously rehearsed that opening line. Even Willy’s contrived comment was the worst attepmt at trying to sound adlibbed that i’d ever heard. I think those two did it on their own…if you didn’t know who they were before, you know now.

  • natasha

    I think Stan and Mel were In on it too. I think they were told what to say on instantaneous and twitter to get everyone back on side with them.

    I also think it is absolutely disgusting that the whole of new Zealand is up in arms about this but the same passion and anger is not given for real issues like child abuse, poverty, violence.

  • Left Right Out

    As a casual observer I watched the video of the ‘attack’ on Joe. I don’t understand, I thought she was going to attack his performance? but instead goes and attacks the way he dressed? I mean, that doesn’t even make any logical sense, let alone offensive?It seemed like a very forced tirade.

  • Left Right Out

    Another theory/observation. X-Factor NZ religiously follows their X-Factor bible, which is basically a blue print of how the show should run. I can’t see any of the judges randomly swaying from it. Also, can someone confirm that the tv3 makeup department/clothing area dresses contestants and judges? So Kills should have defs known Tv3 was dressing him, that’s why I’m also confused.

  • Roger Dodger
  • Mark Wasley

    You could say the timing couldn’t be better, with this press release issued by Rachel for CensusAtSchool.

    • I know right? The timing is incredible. A new conspiracy theory ha. Although the clear paper trail getting this all signed off by the Ministry of Education / Statistics New Zealand is all from last year.

      • Mark Wasley

        I was meaning its a coincidence that the survey is this week, after what happened on Sunday night.

  • Mark Wasley
    • And when were their tickets bought…

      • Mark Wasley

        This tweet hasn’t been verified yet. No other media are reporting this development.

        • The Hits have been click-baiting a bit for this controversy.

  • “She achieved what she wanted to. The world knows her name now.” – Stan Walker.

  • Grant Kearney

    who actually cares…

  • Jodie

    I think scenario number 2 is the most plausible, leading to possibly 2b. Their careers were pretty non-existent and they don’t seem to give a toss of how they are perceived, just looking for publicity, be it good or bad, they really don’t care! That’s my take on it!