Mthokozisi Ngcobo performed Luther Vandross's So Amazing in the Idols Top 16.

DURBAN - WHEN Mthokozisi Ngcobo arrived for his Idols audition on a cold winter day in Cape Town, all he had on were flip flops. When he was quizzed by an Idols judge about his choice of shoes, he told television cameras it was just one of his other two pairs of shoes. The other pair were for church.

The Durban-born Idols Top 16 contestant sang to for the judges and they were impressed, all of them voting ‘yes’.

But when Idols aired on television, Ngcobo received flak on social media, with some accusing him of lying and that he was baying for sympathy votes.

“I think there is a misconception that I told my story to gain sympathy. I told my story to inspire people like me. At UCT there are a lot of people that are going through what I am going through. I want to inspire people who think they cannot do anything. I wanted them to see me grow and follow my journey, so they know they can do it too,” he said.

The uMlazi-born would be singer was raised by his domestic worker mother Ntombifuthi and abusive uncle, who often clashed with his mother at their four-roomed home in uMlazi’s N section.

Despite the rocky upbringing, Ngcobo excelled at school and enrolled at the University of Cape Town, where he studied a BCom in Accounting, before he hit rock-bottom in his second year, with suicidal thoughts and suffering from depression.

“I’m going to be brutally honest. I was doing something I am not really passionate about,” he said of his accounting studies.

“I noticed that this is not where I belong, I want to be someone else,” recalled the 20-year-old.

“When I was with my drama and music friends at UCT, it was like they were gloating when they were telling me about their studies and I noticed that this is not where I belong, I don’t want to do this,” he remembered.

Ngcobo matriculated at uMlazi’s academics-driven Menzi High School in 2015, where the ethos of attaining good grades and studying in the maths, science and accounting streams are the measure of success and obvious path seen to get pupils out of poverty. The school has consistently delivered excellent matric results for about a decade, with 100% matric pass rates and distinctions seen as the norm.

“I started hating myself and I started having problems. I started noticing the bad things about me, then I got depressed and I had thoughts of killing myself, I couldn’t focus. I failed my second year,” he said, adding he thought of jumping off a building at the university.

While at Menzi High, Ngcobo did have some musical training - partaking in the school choir up until Grade 9, before he was called on to focus on his studies. In matric, he obtained 5As, he laughs at himself as he remembers that it was only English and Life Orientation that stunted him from a perfect 7/7.

Ngcobo said he would not blame anyone but himself for his failure at UCT, and revealed that when the Idols band reached Cape Town, he had been in town to write supplementary exams.

“Looking at the books was a challenge, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t focus,” he recalled.

But no matter what happens on Idols, he vows to complete his degree - the first obstacle he has met in his life and not conquered, he says.

Last Sunday, Ngcobo performed Luther Vandross’s ‘So Amazing’, an artist he was exposed to as a young boy by his late aunt.

“When I was young I used to sing for umamkhulu (my aunt) and she would say to me ‘wena Mthoko, ungikhumbuzu Luther Vandross, ngizokuthengela isudi uzohamba uyocula eskoleni’ [Mthoko you remind me of Luther Vandross, I will buy you a suit and you will go perform in it at school],” he recalled.

On Sunday Ngcobo did perform a Luther Vandross hit in a suit, but it was not at school, it was on the Top 16 stage of the Idols competition.  

SUNDAY TRIBUNE