The problem with Idols South Africa. I had a very worrying conversation with some former Idols contestants about what being on the show contributed to their careers. Though I was not shocked that the support from the show was lacklustre as soon as it wrapped each season, I was dismayed when it dawned on me that we as the viewers are duped Mnet.

It would appear that when the producers decided to focus on the black talent and to pull in the “black” ratings, they also decided to amp up the exploitation. Not to say that the white contestants are given an exception on this but when the show was predominantly white, the contestants’ visibility atleast a year after each season was prominent.

Let me prefix my rant by making it clear that it is incumbent on the constants of Idols to build their own careers. The show is and should be a stepping stone and not a free ticket to a career.

That said, when you are a winner or in the top tier of the season, there is a certain expectation of support you have from the people creating this platform to offer.

Winners of Idols SA have an expectation, rightly so, that upon winning the show, the organisers and the record label will provide resources and platforms for them to make a living. Sadly, it has become common knowledge that the expectations are hardly ever met.

American Idols solved this brilliantly by having the music concert tours with contestants during and after the run of each season before starting a new season. The concert run and its subsequent publicity helped boost the show’s rating and created the much needed hype for these artists who are trying to build careers in the business.

In South Africa when you go to Idols know that even if you win, you will be on your own. This is not a crime and it wouldn’t bother me so if only the show did not push the perception that they want to find and build a star!

In essence Idols SA is built on false advertising. They are selling a lie to auditionees and the viewers. They want you to think the show is about something it is now very apparent that it is not. They are not making dreams come true, instead they have inadvertently become a fame tease for wide-eyed young hopefuls who dream of being working artists and superstars.

With American Idols now drawing its final curtain with this last season in 2016, it begs the question; Do we still need Idols South Africa?

When IdolsSA decided to be more diverse and basically ditched the white viewer market [or they ran when they saw that the race numbers would work against them], its ratings soured. Simply put, in terms of numbers the show is doing better now than when Heinz Winkler won.

It would not make business sense to can Idols SA now, but does the financial gains of the show outweigh the moral problem the show has (in my opinion)?

It has become way too common that when black performers die in this country, people have to donate money for their burials because they are penniless when they die. Just recently popular Generations actor Tiki “Sompisi” Nxumalo was reported to have died with no money even though he was part of a tv show that makes a reported R500 million a year.

If Mr Nxumalo. who died at 65 after gaining fame in his golden years, was a musician some people would make the excuse that he may have squandered his money. This was an old man so clearly his remuneration was not up to par with his fame because there is no reason that if he was being paid well he would die penniless.

When Idols touts itself as a platform to discover next big music “star”… what is that definition of star? … the very same people who ‘discover’ you and make money off of your talent on their show can not be bothered to provide platforms beyond the show for you to have a livelihood and grow.

Season 9 runner-up Brendon Ledwaba moaned some time ago on Twitter about his music not moving the way he had hoped. When last did you hear about the much hyped Khaya Mthethwa, winner of season 8? Mind you, much of the hype was generated by fans and his KZN base NOT the channel.

As the winner of Idols SA Season 9, Idols SA was proud to announce that Musa Sukwene walked away with over a R1-million in prizes:
– A R60 000 voucher towards state-of-the-art musical instruments, as well as a Bi-Wizz Scooter valued at R20 000, from Idols sponsor Yamaha;
– A monitor system valued at over R57 000 and Premiere Wireless Technology Shure UHF-R® Wireless Microphone Systems valued at over R40 000 from SHURE Microphones;
– R30 000 in fashion vouchers from Idols clothing sponsor Truworths;
– R350 000 cash from Samsung, an All Share set worth over R50 000 as well as R350 000 from Idols SA;
– A brand new Ford Fiesta 1.0 (1 litre) Ecoboost Titanium Valued at R238 600 from Ford; and
– A recording contract from Universal Music South Africa.
Universal released a 4-track mini-album just before Christmas that year but it was only available exclusively for Samsung customers to download and keep from the Kleek music app — which means very few people ended up having those tracks as Samsung is not really the most widely used smartphone in Mzansi.

Granted, I can not take away the efforts that the show and its sponsors put in giving the contestants their dues during the taping and run of the show. It would be disingenuous of me to do so or belittle the fact that R1million worth of prizes must have a positive impact on an artist’s life.

My gripe is that Idols should stop trying to be something that it is not. The show is like a game show — you enter, participate in the competition, win the prize and they are done with you… then its off to the next bunch of gullible dreamers for a new season.

Building real careers with sustainable livelihood and offering support has to be part of the new narrative of performers’ lives in this country. While one can’t escape the fact that television is a business, producers and channels want to sell content and make money, some moral light has to shine through the veil of fake fame.

New season of Idols SA is coming on air soon and yes I will be watching. I am a fan of the show and I think it is one of very very very few well produced tv shows in this country. Somizi has joined the judging panel and we all know he is a great entertainer so I can’t want for his comments on the show.

I will enjoy watching season 10 all the while knowing that I am watching a continuing exploitation of artists in this country. The few who hold titles and wear suits make millions while the talented people who create the content the suits sell die poor.

Article by Phil Mphela (Entertainment & Social Commentator) 

Photo credit (2014 SA Idols winner Vincent Bones and finalist Bongi Silinda):Teen Zone Magazine   

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