Thursday, April 10, 2008

Idols Africa: your fans are waiting!

I’m not the biggest fan of Idols. In fact, I’m not a fan at all. But unfortunately, it’s Idols season in the tropics and life, as we know it, was never going to be the same again, beginning Sunday 6th April. Early Monday morning, my boss—yes, contrary to perceived impressions, I hold a day job—asked me a seemingly innocent question: “Did you watch Idols Africa?” And before I could share my weekend’s experiences, he retorted: “It’s shit, man!”

If Idols Africa won’t bring us the “next big thing” it promises, then it has succeeded beyond doubt in riskily exposing us to Africa’s deadly talent, in addition to the biggest bunch of weirdos in African television history since Ofunneka drunkenly shagged Richard’s leg on that Saturday afternoon in BBA2. I remember seeing, to my consternation and distress, a grown man with a three day old beard and a badly thrown on blonde wig attempting to sing in a falsetto and generally carrying himself like a woman, minus the boobs of course. I think it was in the Kenyan auditions. Then there was the twerp in the Tanzanian auditions who, despite the most repugnant rendition of Jim Reeves ever caught on camera, did not see the irony in the judges applauding his performance, and even gleefully approached their table when one of the judges admonished him to “Come on”. But I digress…

It all started with American Idol. The judges on this show are a crass (and some say very angry) Englishman in Hollywood called Simon Cowell, who seems to have nothing good to say about anyone at any given time; an over-the-hill diva called Paula Abdul, who apparently used one of the shows to promote the video of her upcoming single, fresh from her lip-syncing catastrophe at Super Bowl XLII, and renowned bassist, singer, songwriter and record producer Randy Jackson. The first thing that strikes you about these judges is their distinct idiosyncrasies; Simon is the cocky insensitive one, and Randy balances him off on the other end of the spectrum. Paula Abdul brings the feminine touch to the party, and is pretty much the middle-ground judge.

Apart from being a cheap knock-off of American Idols, Idols Africa leaves a feeling of general hollowness, not unlike a premature ejaculation. More so after the promotion blitz it received. For starters, the judges are clones of their American counterparts, what with Scar (Hip Hop sensation, Botswana) mimicking Simon’s insensitive mannerisms to the T, TK (Record Producer, Zambia) feigning all appearance and demeanour of Randy and Angela (Radio DJ, Kenya) trying her best to muster the best impression of Paula Abdul she possibly can.

The first leg of the seven-country audition tour began in Kenya. I have always maintained that Kenyan women just can’t sing; when they step up to the mic, eight times out of ten you will hear the throatal crooning that has made many a genge girl famous. That is not singing, I’m afraid. And the menfolk didn’t fare any better. From the gentleman who set off with a rather high-pitched rendering of Da’Ville's “Always on my mind” —thankfully he didn’t get past the first stanza on account of the judges’ guffaws—to the psycho who came in playing a guitar behind his back, all the while whining about his mum being broke, it was a farce, I tell you.

Now if you thought the Kenyan auditions were a travesty, enter the Tanzanian auditions. All my years of life never prepared me for this trauma. The minute I heard the TZ auditions, I asked myself: do these Idols listen to the same songs I listen to? Half the time the lyrics were completely alien, and the saddest part of the whole debacle was that most of the Idols did not even understand the judges’s criticism.

For those who managed to get past the rambling and grumbling that ostensibly passes for singing in Tanzania (the show’s host made it a point to informing us viewers that Freddie Mercury, arguably the greatest rocker of the 20th Century, was born in Tanzania; Zanzibar to be precise. Would Tanzania repeat this achievement with Idols Africa, he posed) getting into what the general world considers as singing was a far more daunting task. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they were auditioning for “Bongo Flava Idol”, because I did not see an iota of “popness” in those performances. And I’m still waiting to see the “wow factor” that has come to be the must-use password for shows such as these. The biggest spectacle of the night was the gent who informed the judges that he was performing an R&B piece, and promptly broke into traditional song-and-dance, complete with all the moves and gestures of a traditional healer, or more accurately, perhaps, a rainmaker. All in all, Tanzania managed a whooping four Golden tickets out of the thousands who came for the audition, while formidable neighbour Kenya harvested 13.

Which only strengthens my argument that Africans are not cut out for this sort of thing. If it’s going to be a competition, please don’t judge us on concepts that are entirely alien. My point is this: Idols (complete with it’s “wow factor”) may work for the American market, but in Africa, it’s a downright sham. In the end, my experience with Idols Africa is that it is corny and dangerously bordering on the ridiculous. But still, tonight I plan to watch the Uganda auditions, for the comedy value more than anything. Then there’s Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana… oh dear.


Mwangi said...

I agree that unless Idol can be adapted to conform to the cultural idiosyncrasies of Africa it is simply not suited for our continent. After all we are far from being as culturally homogeneous as other countries in the world.
As opposed to trying to force everyone into a narrow pigeonhole why not use it to showcase the beautiful unique elements of Africa - e.g. if you put the guy who did the R&B thing into a war song, or rugby cheer song album...we might have a different story.
PS: Speaking as a Kenyan, South Africans are the best vocalists in our continent, hands down!

My 0.02

Anonymous said...

i asked myself the exact same thing- i mean these guys trying out are listening to these international celebs, why then is it NOT translating into better auditions- how can we not have quality singers. its a sad day i tell you coz its gonna be one long comic relief season

Adelynne said...

I came over from Global Voices, and I must say that your post made me giggle the whole time - it's so interesting to read about what happens in African countries! And this topic is quite fun.

But really, I agree with you in that why should Africans have to follow what the Americans do? Why not have a singing show styled in YOUR own way instead of mimicking the Americans? The Idol style may suit them, but if it doesn't suit Africans, then so be it. I bet that there are great singers in that continent (which I wish to visit one day...), though they may not fit the American Idol bill. I hope to be able to hear Africans singing the way they know how, and the best that they can, too. Americans aren't the best people in the world. We've gotta get that out of our minds and our consciousness (me included).

Okay, I've said enough :) Here's to you and other Africans!

Adelynne [from Malaysia]

Wanjiku Unlimited said...

Ha ha ha you've reminded me of Ofunneka! And the other clowns on BBA2. Only I didn't know it was the leg she was shagging Lol! And she dared say she was raped!

I agree fully with your sentiments on the Idols auditions. What a comedy! I penned an article on the same too. We have the same thoughts especially about the AI judges.

trishpam said...

well its no wonder we africans are alwayz left behind in most cases,instead of encouraging our upcoming musicians we instead ridicle them,actually american idols had far worse comics and compared to us its nothing!!!
am hurt when we say we cant sing and yet we are gifted in music,there are many out there with undiscovered talents,the best musicians are actualy from african origin...