Brace yourselves for . . . The next BIG thing

2012-08-17 14:41

SA’s Got Talent returns with its wacky line-up of aspirant performers. Lesley Mofokeng chats to the new faces on the show

From the sublime opera singers to the weird and ridiculous drag queen act, South African talent is weighing in. In the new season of SA’s Got Talent, there is awkwardness, strangeness and entertainment galore.

The judges are still Ian von Memerty and Shado Twala, who will now be joined by Kabelo Mabalane, who replaces Randall Abrahams. The show has also dropped its two hosts, Anele Mdoda and Rob van Vuuren, and has taken in rising comedian Tats Nkonzo.

Mabalane’s addition is a strategic move that should pay off. He brings his street cred and swag. He is a former kwaito bad boy who survived the murky world of drugs to become a celebrated extreme athlete and activist.

Mabalane’s advice is informed by every bad choice he made and every misstep he took in his colourful career.

But the often overly confident musician is modest when we meet over lunch in Rosebank. He is nibbling on grilled fish, and five asparagus spears are lined up neatly on his plate while I wolf away at a greasy and high-cholesterol de luxe burger dripping with oil.

The 35-year-old says it took some thinking to commit to the reality show.

“After thinking about it, I remembered that I’ve been in the industry for a substantial time. I might have something to offer young talent. I am not old, but I am not a teenager either. I am still involved in commercial music, and visibility and relevance is a big thing in our game.

“People are going to start seeing me in a different light. Since I hosted the Samas twice, it awoke a desire in me for a career on TV, but it had to be on my terms.”

His take on reality TV is refreshing. He is under no illusion of what they offer.

“Talent shows don’t validate anyone’s talent. If one doesn’t make it, it doesn’t mean one is a failure. It’s a judgement of the panel at that time.

And my opinion can change. A contestant can go away and come back to blow me away.”

Mabalane, famous for hits like Pantsula 4 Life and Amasheleni, is a decorated performer and knows his game.

“I have achieved success at the highest level in music, winning two best kwaito album awards at the Samas in a row, so I have an idea of what I am looking for.”

While reality shows have a formulaic set-up and judges who seem to fulfil certain profiles, Mabalane insists he keeps it real.

“I’m an honest judge, that’s the least I can do for the contestants.”

When the lights dim and the curtain comes down on the show, Mabalane says the talented winner will not be left in the deep end.

“Part of the strategy is to look after the talent post-competition because we all know that when the winner succeeds it says a lot about the show. Otherwise it’s a futile exercise.”

Mabalane describes his fellow panellists as great company. He says Von Memerty offers the most articulate critique and he is precise.

“Mama Shado, I can tell that her strength is the years and years of experience. She has seen them come and go. Every time she makes a call, I just know it’s from the experience. I bring a better understanding of what works better commercially in this day and age. They have given me the space to identify that.”

Mabalane says the show has afforded him endless hours of fun with the eccentric, sublime and ridiculous acts.

“I have favourites, definitely. Three in fact. I hope the winner ignites a sense of hope in people who are sleeping on their dreams.”

Presenter Tats Nkonzo (born Mthawelanga Nkonzo in East London) is a bit of a regular on the local reality show circuit. He tried his luck on Idols and reached the Top 24 stage. He then moved to the comedy talent search So You Think You’re Funny, where he got to the last eight. And now
he sits comfortably as the presenter of SA’s Got Talent.

He is modest about his role.

“This is a different platform, but it’s not about me. It will be wrong if I whip out my guitar and steal the show. I have to play my role well as a
facilitator, to encourage those who have been picked and commiserate with those who have not.”

Having been a contestant on a reality show, Nkonzo says he finds it easy to relate to contestants.

“I know what it takes to stand in the queue, even before that, making the decision, filling the forms, doubting yourself and standing in front of the judges to be critiqued, jeered or cheered on.”

But it’s the comedy acts he feels a special affinity with.

“I get nervous. I know the Cape Town, Joburg and Durban scenes, and I know there is nothing like stage time and I can tell when they have not put in the hours. And there’s the expectancy from contestants for me to identify with them since I am a comedian.”

Talking about his favourites, Nkonzo says there’s only a handful that have made him stop in his tracks and pay attention.

“There’s about five who I think came prepared, focused and hungry, while nerves got the better of the others.”

He says this concerns him.

“I don’t think our shows are at a stage where they pull in real artists. I feel that real talent is still not interested in the money and the recording contracts. They don’t see it as a legit way to start their careers. But when the stories of success after the shows come to the fore, their interest will be piqued.”

He gives praise to those willing to chase their dreams.

“Even if they suck, they are living their dream, as misguided as it is.”

Nkonzo feels that he is still chasing his own dream. “I need to learn to pause and appreciate what I have. In this game, we’re always thinking about the next thing, we’re always on to the next gig. I need to stop and take it all in, otherwise I will always just be chasing.”

» SA’s Got Talent airs on e.tv on Thursday, August 30, at 8.30pm 

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