Matt Saunoa was born in Manukau City, New Zealand, and moved to the town of Levin after finishing school. The only hint of his future singing career were his performances in the school choir and his shower. While working as a garage builder, Saunoa entered the first series of NZ Idol, even though he had to hitchhike to Wellington to attend after not being able to catch a train. He failed that audition, but returned two years later, aged 21 and with a son, for another try. This time he was successful and his performances on that year's show, including performances of songs by Gnarls Barkley, Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith, Elton John, and Dave Dobbyn, impressed both the judges and the audience. He won the final round and a contract to record a single, as well as a car and a cash prize. That single, "Hold Out" written by James Reid of the Feelers, went to number one. However, it did not sell enough copies to guarantee an album contract. While boarding a plane to Australia, where he planned to start his singing career over, Saunoa received a phone call from the producers of Pop's Ultimate Star asking him to enter the competition, which pitted the winners of other reality TV programs against each other. After one day in Australia, he returned to New Zealand and signed on for the show, where he was eventually beaten by Joe Cotton, former singer from The Popstars winning band, TrueBliss.