Talent search shows are, by their very nature, somewhat deceiving and manipulative of their audiences.
That’s just the reality (pun intended) of the situation in an industry where entertainment value – and by extension, ratings – determine whether a programme has a lifespan of 20 years, or 20 minutes.
Those of us who are not naïve enough to actually believe the “unscripted, reel-to-reel action” tagline that usually accompanies such shows understand a candidate’s performance may be tweaked here, a judge’s reaction freeze-framed there, and the camera and lighting edited, well, everywhere! But at what point does a wee (or not-so-wee) spot of audience-attracting editing become all-out forgery?
Much as the supposed conflicts or sappy sweet moments are mostly manufactured, controversy and conspiracy theories abound in every season of a series such as South African Idols: just mention the words “Mara Louw” and there’s likely to be a collective sigh of exasperation at the former judge’s infuriating insistence at flogging the old “race” horse.
Sadly, such narrow-minded statements stuck and thanks to Miss Mara, Idols has effectively become just (another) project focused on race, with the show’s true purpose to earnestly seek out our country’s top talents long forgotten, it seems.
In the run-up to Tuesday night’s finale, the various social media sites were brimming with comment pieces in which the writers openly declared their support for Khaya Mthethwa, simply because he stood to become the first black winner of SA Idols. Which he duly did. And deservedly so.
But unfortunately for Khaya, thanks to these colour-fixated folk, his win will for ever be peppered with questions surrounding its legitimacy.
From the moment the Top 16 were announced (with some shocking exits before and after), speculation began to mount that M-Net had deliberately set out to secure a black winner this year, in a bid to mollify perceptions that the show and its audience were more favourable towards white contenders.
So much so, that purported “insiders” were quoted as saying Khaya had been hand-picked to take the title from the time he first stepped on to the audition room floor.
That he happens to be part of the gospel group, Joyous Celebration, which was founded by Lindelani Mkhize, who happens to be the executive director at Universal Music, which in turn happens to be the label to which the winner would be signed, has only served to further fan the flames of the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” debate.
Compound that with the fact that:
a) M-Net conveniently neglected to release the final voting ratio, which they’ve always done in previous years – even during the embarrassing Sasha-Lee Davids/ Jason Hartman debacle, and
b) A number of black personalities were unapologetically using their status to overtly canvas votes for Khaya mostly because he happens to share the same skin colour (never mind that, were white celebrities to do the same, there would be all-out anarchy), and the stage was long-since set.
When it came down to it, was Khaya the stronger contender? Yes.
Was he worthy of the win? Absolutely.
But as he himself put it to the post-finale press conference: “It saddens me that every time there is an achievement, it comes down to black and white, or is political in some way.” You sing it, brother!
LARA DE MATOS