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Finding Israel in the Mother City

Special Features

Tina George

WHAT was meant to be an ordinary working day turned out to be one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

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Cape Town. Multiple Grammy Award winner and international gospel singer Israel Houghton during auditions held at the Radison Hotel for a New Breed gospel group in South Africa. Picture Ian LandsbergCape Town. Multiple Grammy Award winner and international gospel singer Israel Houghton, who is also the founder of New Breed Gospel,  greet Henry van der Zand (left) during auditions held at the Radison Hotel for a New Breed gospel group in South Africa. Looking on is Henry's son Bradley ,21,  who was also taking part in the auditions.  Picture Ian LandsbergCape Town - 110607. Journalist, Tina George, auditions for a place in an international gospel group at the New Breed Africa audition which took place at the Blu Radison Hotel today.  Reporter:Tina George  . Photo: Jason Boud

Notebook and pen in hand, I entered the buzzing lobby of the Raddison Blu Hotel where auditions for Grammy Award-winning gospel superstar Israel Houghton’s New Breed Africa programme were being held.

Most of the hopefuls were lined up, waiting to audition, when New Breed singer Lois Du Plessis spotted me and ran over to tell me that she absolutely loved my hair. Moments like those remind me that my huge afro sometimes generates unwanted attention.

At that very moment, the man himself, Israel Houghton, arrived. He received me with a smile and a handshake when I introduced myself as a reporter covering the auditions who would love an interview with him.

Then, he asked: “Do you sing?”

“Yes, I do! But I’m not here to audition,” I stressed.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t come here looking the way you do and not audition and if you don’t, I won’t give you an interview. That’s just how it works,” he said smiling and walked off to the audition room.

So there I was, after pacing for a while, waiting for an open spot. I made my way into the camera-filled room to find three judges – Du Plessis, Neville D and Israel – staring at me, smiling.

I stood on the spot marked with an X and begged once more not to sing, but was refused. So, I took a deep breath and belted out a jazzed- up rendition of The Christmas Song, all I could think of at the time.

With a few nervous off notes I managed to make it to the end of the song.

Standing with my eyes closed, feeling as though I’d made the biggest fool of myself, I waited for feedback as if my life truly depended on it.

“You can sing, girl, why aren’t you singing?” said Du Plessis.

“I am, but I’m just more focused on my career as a journalist at the moment,” I replied.

“Jokes aside, you would get a ‘yes’ from all three of us,” said Houghton.

Did I miss an opportunity? Who knows, but it definitely was an experience I’ll never forget.

As for the hundreds of hopefuls who also attended the Cape Town auditions, not all had as promising an experience as mine.

The youngest entrants at 17, Leeron Malgas and Lumkile Tisanda from the SA Youth Choir, stunned the judges with their big voices, while the first in the queue weren’t so lucky.

Luchae Gie and Shane Erasmus drove nine-and-a-half hours from Port Elizabeth, but didn’t pass the first round.

“Even though I didn’t make it, they were very encouraging. They motivated me to stick to solo singing instead of with a group,” said Gie.

“This is nothing compared to Idols. The judges aren’t brutal, they give real constructive criticism,” said Erasmus.

When I did get a chance to talk to Hougton, he said they were setting up the New Breed Africa band as a movement to help people realise their potential, whether as singers or musicians.

“It’s been a dream of mine for six years. I’m overwhelmed by how amazing the talent pool is here,” said Houghton.

“People are searching for a real identity. They must break out of their limitations.

“Do you realise the ceiling over your head can be smashed?”

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