Who's the man? ... Roland Williams is enjoying success in NZ in the classroom, in the rugby paddock and behind the microphone.
THE reign of Roland Williams has begun. The 18-year-old former frontman of the Suva band, One-2-Eight, beat nine other finalists in the Maori Television singing competition -- Homai Te Pakipaki -- in Auckland on Friday night.
Roland crooned his way to the $10,000 first prize money with the tune Me and Mrs Jones, a signature track of legendary Philadelphia soul singer Billy Paul.
In a commentary on his performance, the New Zealand news website stuff.co.nz reported: "When Roland Williams sings, he sounds much older than his years."
It's an acknowledgement of Roland's strong tenor range that allowed him to experiment with the soul and funk of Stevie Wonder and Tavares while here with One-2-Eight.
The performance capped off a 23-week run of Homai Te Pakipaki, that started in May, and which has developed a cult-like following since going to air for the first time in 2007.
The former Marist Brothers High School student, who left for Auckland's Kelston Boys High School earlier this year on a rugby scholarship, won his heat on September 11 with the Gregory Abbot smash I Wanna Shake You Down.
For that effort, he took home the weekly prize of $1000.
On Friday night, in a two-hour finale that featured a guest appearance by popular New Zealand singer Mark Williams, Roland broke new ground by excelling in a field other than the rugby paddock.
Speaking from Auckland yesterday Roland said while he was enjoying the feel-good experience, he was still a little stunned.
"It was quite tough. There's a lot of talent here and everybody came prepared," Roland said.
"My school has also been very supportive."
Roland packs down Kelston's Second XV at Number 8 and has managed to balance his blossoming music career with his rugby and his studies.
"My studies have been going great, really well -- it's a massive improvement from what I'd been doing in Fiji," he said.
"The rugby's been going great too. We reached the semi-final of the competition in Auckland."
Here at home, on hearing the news on Friday night, Roland's mum, Glenda, was over the moon.
"Oh man, I feel on top of the world," Mrs Williams said while admitting Roland could be facing some difficulties adjusting to a new environment.
"His studies are going well although I believe he can do much better.
"I wish I was there to celebrate with him."
Roland's achievement also ensured the yaqona flowed thick and fast with the One-2-Eight gang, which is gaining a reputation as a kind of ex-Marist Brothers High School institution.
The band features guitarist Nesbitt Hazelman and bass player Ratu Jo Tabakaucoro.
"It's a big achievement for Roland and everybody's happy here," Ratu Jo said.
"The Maori are great vocalists and for Roland to win that kind of competition says a lot about his abilities.
"I think his weapon is his old-school repertoire for a young kid -- that's his edge."
Roland plans to study psychology some time in the future while he nurtures his rugby.
And his music?
"I'll probably pursue it later," he said. "There're opportunities for the performing arts here in Auckland -- so things are really great."
Roland Williams' exploits -- on and off the rugby field -- have come in only his first year in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
But if they're anything to go by, this Namadi Heights kid is going places -- to be sure.