Let’s pretend to be Dennis Hopper and Keanu Reeves from Speed: “Pop quiz, hot shot! How many Idols winners or finalists can you name from the last ten years?”
Chances are, not that many. Started in 2001 in South Africa, Idols is the local spin-off of the highly popular British TV show Idol, and its American spin-off American Idol. It promised fame and possibly a few riches for the many who took part. And so they flocked to the cities from far and wide, to audition, and become the next big thing.
Sadly, perhaps it is the small size of the local industry that hamstrings the winners, but not a single idol has ever really managed to break through to the big time. 13 years down the line, we can’t even remember half their names; for the most part they have been snubbed by the music industry (when a finalist performed at the SAMA Nominees Party one year, all the industry people who were there just ignored him); many of them are still vastly ignorant of how the music industry works (when one of the winners one year said all she wanted was a recording contract from a major label, her ignorance showed that she has very little understanding of how the industry actually works, because it takes so much more than just a recording contract to make it in the music business); and despite their proclaimed success, they are still in major need of help (one of the winner’s mothers contacted a colleague of mine a few years ago and asked for assistance and a crash course on the music industry).
Then of course there is the typical South African me-too format of things, where we always end up trying to copy the British or the Americans (Randall Abrahams is such a wannabe Simon Cowell, and a poor one at that; and what qualifies Gareth Cliff, a radio DJ, to make prognoses about the music industry?).
One could even argue that, apart from maybe Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift (and maybe not even them), not even the American winners and finalists have been given the necessary stimulus to get their careers to superstardom.
A local top 10 finalist, who has also approached me for help, recently said something to me that made perfect sense, and summed it up beautifully: “Idols is great TV, not great music.”