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Saturday 11 April 2015

X Factor's Tee, on finding happiness

Posted in: Music
By Jacqui Stanford - 8th October 2014

Kiwi X Factor Australia star Ofisa "Tee" Toleafoa is back in New Zealand for a break after bowing out of the competition. He tells about the happiness he’s found after learning to stop running from his problems – plus the peace he’s made with his mum and the massive amount of love he has for his supporters.

It’s hard to forget that moment the Tokoroa-raised singer first broke and stole our hearts, he explained in his unforgettable audition that he’d moved to Australia to find himself, and be himself, after his staunchly Christian family found out he was gay through Facebook.

The Footlocker salesman dedicated his audition song, Jennifer Hudson’s I Am Changing, to his mum, saying while he might be changing, his love for her never would.

While that season of X Factor wasn’t shown in New Zealand, the video was shared far and wide.

More than a year on, Tee explains what led to his emotional audition. He says with X Factor you are supposed to have a story, and his story was supposed to be that he’d simply left New Zealand to pursue his dream.

“I actually had my partner there and the whole time I was doing the whole undercover thing. I said ‘this is my cousin’ and my partner was really upset and I was upset too, asking myself ‘why am I hiding this?’ So when the judges asked me ‘why did you enter this show?’ the truth came out. And as hard as that was, I felt really, really good afterwards.”

He feels like it was a story that needed to be told, and worth it if he could touch one heart with his message that “it’s not about just being gay, it’s not just about being lesbian, it’s about being you and the real you.”

Tee made it through to the Top 24, but was not taken into the live shows by mentor Ronan Keating.

This year, he came back. He wanted to move beyond his story, saying in his first attempt he got lost in emotions. Though he did come to the realisation “that I’m a massive fob guy who wears his heart on his sleeve,” he laughs.


This season judge/mentor Natalie Bassingthwaighte had his back and he made it all the way to the top seven. He’s been voted out for New Zealand viewers, as the show is slightly behind here.

His chin is up. He’s a positive guy. He already has some Aussie gigs booked (and we might just see him perform here in New Zealand too).

But for now he is taking a break at home and mostly just feeling full of thanks. “I’ve had so much support from people back here in Tokoroa and all around New Zealand. Because of my situation, a lot of people have been messaging encouraging me, just pushing me to do well. I’m just so grateful.”

Tee’s glad his story has resonated with so many people. He feels like when people are closeted, they often hide their talents in the closet too. He feels for other gay Pacific Island guys who are walking the path he trod. “But if I can do it, a guy who cries all the time, who is emotional, people call a massive teddy bear,” he thinks others can too. “I was brought up in a crazy, crazy Christian family and my mum’s totally fine now but it’s still quite hard for her to talk about. I’m fine with that.”

He believes the key thing in the Pacific Island community is respect. “If you learn how to respect your upbringing and actually come down to your parents’ level and talk to them and have that heart to heart talk, cause I feel like for a lot of gay Pacific Island we either shy away from it, or we give them a reason to hate it. I’m all for who you want to be, if you want to be a cross dresser do it, do whatever you feel is you showing yourself, but for our community, Pacific Island people, they love that word respect.”

Tee says showing respect has helped him gain respect in return, and is better than an ‘I will do whatever I want and I don’t care what you say’ attitude. “If you come to people and say, you know what, I am who I am but I still respect everyone else’s opinion – that’s what our Pacific guys need to learn. Show more of your heart, rather than your personality.”

And yes, the best part of this story is that things are so much better between Tee and his mum – after they didn’t speak for about six months when his family found out he was gay. He’s since explained he spent years trying to be who he wasn’t, and ultimately dating girls while feeling low and suicidal. “I love my mum so much. I would do anything for her. I would die for my mum … I told her I tried, but I couldn’t find happiness being with girls and my mum was in tears and I just said to her ‘you know what, you should be happy that even though I’m into guys and in a relationship with a guy now, my love for you has not changed. My love of everything you’ve taught me hasn’t changed’.”

Tee and his biggest supporter James
He’s glad he stopped running from his problems. Since he’s stopped running, he’s found happiness. “I’m very happy, my family’s very happy, my mum’s very happy.”

Tee and his partner James have now been together for two years. They met at one of Tee’s gigs and just clicked, falling quickly into a relationship. “He’s not only my partner. He’s my rock. My biggest supporter … I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.”

His final thoughts are simple. “I just want everyone to know I am grateful, and to persevere till you make your dream a reality.”

You can check out Tee's unforgettable X Factor audition below
Jacqui Stanford - 8th October 2014

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