If I Met Tusker Project Fame, This Is What I Would Tell Him/Her

At the height of its glorious days, American Idol felt like the show that was going to be around for a long time. Until what I hope happens to Tusker Project Fame (TPF) happened. Now in its thirteenth season, one of history’s most successful American television shows is suffering the blows thrown by copycat programs such as The Voice and The X Factor. Especially The Voice.

Season by season, the star of American Idol got eclipsed by the new shows on the block which changed almost everything other than the fact that they all promise to give the world the next music superstar. Very few people today know the name of the last American Idol winner. If no such emergence had happened, the millions that are now spoiled for choice would end up where many talent search show-hungry East Africans currently find themselves. Hungry for a show the size of Tusker Project Fame but one where things are done a lot better.

Even with just five seasons behind it, East Africa’s ultimate vocal talent scouting platform is already tasting like that not-so-good meal you only eat because you are hungry. And that monopoly doesn’t mean everyone settles for the meal.

When the new season premiered this month, the one thing that made TPF bearable, one of the few unique things about the show, was that spirit of togetherness that it somehow manages to generate. The only other time East Africa is represented on one stage more often is when the region’s presidents meet. And of late, the subtle seclusion of some countries from the “table of men that matter” is slowly robbing that.

My interest in how this year’s season ends could be due to the fact that I actually auditioned and in a turn of events I later appreciated, I didn’t make it to the final elimination round. But on the show’s premier night, that gusto suffered a mild heart-attack. Excellence, a prerequisite for a show of its kind, came in smaller amounts that October 13th evening. It all started with that on scene audience pregnant with lethargy; the new co-host of the show was a victim of critical viewers who preferred her predecessor not to mention the struggling chemistry between her and the male co-host, the show’s deflating progression and shabby transitions (I found myself going to the kitchen with no worry I was missing anything)…endless humorless jokes and jabs…the contestants’ wardrobe manager who needs to manage their bad decision making skills…the croaking microphones and intermittent sound droughts… It all seemed haphazard. Many would-be attentive viewers found themselves looking at the more entertaining #TPF6 tweets.

I later concluded that the absence of shows worth the buzz TPF enjoys mostly because it is the only such show explains the noticeable laxity. Yes, things can go wrong but those were so many things going wrong. Especially with Endemol on board. My first recommendation is that aspiring shows find a way of making it to the regional stage to remind Tusker that the already dwindling viewer numbers can actually fall for good. Such a threat would no doubt sober up many people (unintended pun). I would gladly share some ideas with any rich man or woman (being super rich is an added advantage) excited by the possibility of throwing their monies at a venture such as this.

Back to American Idol.

A.I is the reason why the likes of Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson,  Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, Mandisa and many others shine on even when the very reason they partially do is less talked about today than when they came to the limelight. A talent search show is no guarantee for success in the music industry but it is a very powerful pedestal. While it is written on no stones, the number of people that continue to shine on long after the show ends make it more successful. That could still be the reason why American Idol remains unforgettable. It gave us so much in terms of lasting talent. For many who are not following the sixth season of TPF, it is the unanswered question of which cave the winners slip into never to be heard from for a long time. Or never again.

There is so much irony in the fact that Asha Naava Zziwa alias Naava Grey, one of the very first people in the Tusker Academy back who was evicted in 2008 when the show first came on air is a brighter star than all the winners. Fellow Ugandan Esther Nabaasa (season 2 winner) and a couple of other former contestants remain part of the music industry but for a show of regional status, TPF is yet to produce that regional star. And the shortcomings of the latest search raise concern whether that will happen this year. And not like there is no talent in the nest this year.

Some will blame the hands that nurture the young talent sent to Nairobi, Kenya annually. Maybe the kind of stars stages such as TPF make is not fit enough for the local music industries in the region is another theory. Maybe it is a mixture of both or more. But if Tusker Project Fame is to give people five years from now a reason to watch, it needs to start producing stars. If that means further tightening the sieving process, so be it. If it means staying with the winner for sometime until they can fly on their own, for the sake of the show’s future, the winners and other contestants alike need to start making heart-winning music post-show.

The Voice, one of the reasons American Idol is down there on the list of top talent search shows today focuses a lot on judge-contestant knowledge imparting. The experts who are the judges and their resident trainers are often seen exhibiting a level of knowledge which when shared with eager contestants is the reason driving that show at the expense of many others.

Tusker Project Fame organisers will have to look further to find people that don’t just give us bubblegum repetitive ‘that was good…it was ok” comments. The academy idea seemed perfect until trouble knocked on the door. Given that the judges have lots of say on who stays, all of them ought to have enough knowledge to ensure who stays is not only on the basis of how they sound on performance night. The show’s main judging panel only has one member who will sit me down for a lecture on taking the stage. That is unhealthy given that she is not even the king of the judges.

Many viewers might enjoy Judge Ian’s quirky and idiosyncratic comments but the fact that his judging relies mostly on a honed ability to tell a good voice and a mediocre one by just listening is not healthy for the show. When a judge doesn’t like it, they should be able to give an option and in this case, illustrate it. The choreographer I saw last night throwing corny comments surely can’t do that.

Before The Voice concept has judges going out of their way to share their vocal knowledge, the system’s pairing mechanism somehow ensures that a country singer ends up on Blake Shelton’s team, a girl with a voice stronger than Birdy ends up on team Christina Aguilera while the futures of pop are more likely to go Cee Lo or Adam Levine. As the show progresses, the judges don’t just throw around comments, they are part of the final product. Tusker Project Fame needs that. The vocal coaches and dance instructors are needed but at the end of the day, the most powerful people in the room are the judges. They need to be part of the making of the end product they are to judge. And that takes more than having fitting adjectives. It calls for the ability to belt. Being unable to personally polish potential into superstar material is what one of the world’s greatest talent scout, Simon Cowell lacks to this day.

Dramatic comments and facial expressions don’t necessarily make music stars. And certainly, they shouldn’t be the sole reason people watch TPF in 2020 (hopefully this star shines on). The TPF judging panel ought to be more aware of the direction of the region’s music industry; The Voice beats other shows by many miles because it is consciously gravitating towards where the American music industry is headed. Before a 22-year-old sings a Makeba song, is her audience likely to connect with that? Is a 25-year-old song a perfect choice for this 22-year-old? The panel should be able to answer those questions. There is no maxim that African contestants must cling to tortoise-old African classics.

But yet again, not every singer is worth being a judge of upcoming stars. Conduct a poll on what people think of the ‘star-studded’ NTV Uganda Talent XP panel and you will fully grasp what I am saying. That is if you find a sufficient number of viewers relevant for the poll.

The countries represented on Tusker Project Fame including South Sudan collectively house over 160 million people. That number is many times higher than the number of TV sets in the region but a good number of them are more likely to be tuned to Tusker Project Fame every weekend for the next six weeks. And that could be because they don’t have anything like it coming in at that time. However, many more are watching Olivia Pope get to the bottom of things, The Blacklist or have their sets switched off. And TPF should be worried by the growing number of the latter.

The words of my favorite contestant seem to capture much of everything above: “I think what makes a celebrity is success. Fame is a vital thing and so is wealth. But success and fame are the key words” – Daisy Ejang. 

TPF has the money and over the years, it has garnered a level of fame and success but it needs more success if it is to be the show that can withstand the effects of being around for long or the arrival of a more captivating show.

Follow @SongaStone

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2 Responses to “If I Met Tusker Project Fame, This Is What I Would Tell Him/Her”

  1. […] If I Met Tusker Project Fame, This Is What I Would Tell Him/Her. […]

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