Arguably one of South Africa’s biggest reality TV shows, Idols has since its inception, circa 2001 become one of the primary platforms from which potential musicians could launch their careers and gain exposure, with a staggering 20 million votes cast throughout the duration of its last season, expectations for the 11th season are high.
With the inclusion of Somizi Mhlongo to the judging panel, consisting of veteran judges, Gareth Cliff, the Randal Abrahams, and Metro FM personality turned singer/songwriter, Unathi, the illustrious choreographer who was a favourite during his mentorship of the former seasons’ Top 6 group is slated to add an “invaluable perspective in the judging process.” According to Idols SA producer, Gavin Wratten. News that the young dancer would join the judging tripartite was lauded across social networking sites, like Twitter where #somizi trended, amid mixed reactions. A vast majority of people it seems are taken aback by the decision to have a dancer critique a predominantly vocal contest, at least that is, according to a recent poll on the Idols South Africa homepage, where 43.82% of people think he should have been a singer, 15.32% think he will be great, and 40.86% “can’t wait to see him in action.”
And while the anticipation ahead of the 11th season can’t be quelled, it’s an interesting time to divulge the controversies and scandals that have accompanied the show since Heinz Winkler became the very first winner of the South African version of the show, which was then called Pop Idol.
The very first controversy unfolded immediately following the finale of season 1, when Winkler was crowned the winner, beating running up Brandon October. It’s understandable, considering October was far more vocally-apt than the lifeless, Ronan Keating-like Heinz, whose only dance move was blinking. Heinz’s victory became the subject of constant rumours, in which race and privilege were named factors that contributed to his win.
Who remembers the duo, Nazneen Leeman and Wafeeq Saffodien, the talented cousins from Cape Town who entered the second season of the show? Anyway, they joined fellow contestants, Anke Pietrangeli (that season’s winner or Kimberly’s Diamond if you will), Poseletso Sejosingoe, Zama Sithole, and Jacques Terre’Blanche amongst others in the top 10 before being ousted (wait for it!) together during the Top 8 results show.
Now this is where it becomes shady… a week prior to their coincidental elimination from the show, an email in which elderly members of the Muslim council pleaded with muslims across the country to boycott the singing duo began to circulate, stating that the pair were partaking in a show the Islamic community saw as haraam (forbidden) because of “the nakedness and indecent exposure of the participants; the immoral lyrics of songs and the use of venues such as casinos, rave clubs, dance arenas”. Sheik Ihsaan Hendricks, then president of the Muslim Judicial Council was reported as saying, in an article published by IOL in 2003. And especially on a show called Idols- a word which has long been wrought with negative connotations in the Islamic religion, which deems idolatry an act of ‘Shirk’ (ascribing partners to God or praying to idols/symbols, etc.)
When Karin Kortje, an inspiring singer and apple-picker by profession, walked through the doors to audition for season III, nobody would imagine what impact she would later come to have on audiences across the country, let alone the judges. Insecure about her weight, the timid, poncho-wearing young mother launched into a stellar rendition of Shirley Bassey’s famous hit, Never Never Never, prompting Mr mean himself, Randall Abrahams to request she carry on, after abruptly stopping before the second verse. “Carry on.” He jeered, positioning himself in his seat, apparently astounded at Kortje’s vocal range. Fast Forward two months, a make-over, intense vocal training, and a thousands of fans later, Karin was transformed into a diva, and was announced the winner. Following her Idols victory, her winning single “I’m So Ready” went on to become a sensational hit, followed by the release of her first album, “Forever and A Day”. And forever and a day it would be, before Kortje ever did anything publicly or released any music. These days she can be found doing smaller, community based shows, alongside other Capetonian musicians, apparently embarrassed to resurface after stumbling across the body of a man her boyfriend, whom she was dating at the time, had killed in the flat they shared together. Never mind that, what about the fact that the esteemed vocalists wasn’t invited back to perform during the next season’s grand finale as other winners previously were? they say her relatonship with SONY BMG had also become strained. SCANDALOUS, huh?!
From screaming at producers over bad sound quality at live tapings of the shows, to allegedly mixing painkillers and alcohol prior to a show, former Idols SA judge, Mara Louw, or Mama Mara has always managed to add just the right twist to the popular hit TV show. But alcohol and painkillers, or ranting are nothing in the face of the racial remarks passed by the lauded SA songstress, who was outspoken about the fact that Idols should be televised on an alternative platform, like SABC 3, or a black person would never win. Little did she know…exactly that would happen, two seasons later. Mara was then replaced by Unathi, the singer/songwriter and Metro FM personality.
Now for the biggest scandal yet…. After the season V finale in which Sasha-Lee Davids of Cape Town was announced the winner, the 3000 strong-crowd of mostly Jason Hartman supporters began to boo as Davids belted out her winning single, True Believer. Something just wasn’t right, it was clear from the beginning who was going to win this season. Predictable, I thought. Another girl from the Cape, and they might as well as coin this, Cape Town Idols. Credit where it’s due, however, Sasha Lee was a good singer, but Mnet emerged a few days later with a statement to the public in which they disclosed that, Jason Hartman was the rightful winner. The story goes, votes were miscounted by Alexander Forbers, resulting in a miscalculation that excluded the 200 000 votes more Hartman received. However, Fremantle Media and Mnet decided to declare both as winners, and sharing the same prizes, Sasha and Jason became the first ever double winners of the show in the world.
Design by: Bizani Meyiwa
Words by: Raeez Jacobs