Jason: has ‘Idols’ found a star?

2009-05-16 00:00

FIVE months ago, Jason Hartman could well have been performing at Pecanwood on the Midlands Meander to a couple of people in the bar who weren’t even interested. But on Friday, he looked out at more than 700 screaming fans in an outdoor marquee. “It’s so good be home,” he said, predictably. He could do no wrong. Whatever he said was funny, however arbitrary, and whatever he sang was devoured by the rapturous applause.

Such is the power of reality TV. The regular guy from Howick is now a superstar.

I was genuinely pleased for him, standing backstage and watching the performance. But Idols is still the butt-end of the week for me. By the time Sunday night comes, the last thing I care about is what Mara, Randall, Dave and Gareth think.

When news broke of a fifth Idols, I thought M-Net had shot themselves in the foot. Who would watch? Who would care? This is overkill.

Six months and over 12 million votes later, I find myself slightly depressed. Even my wife voted. The kind of passion the Idols zeitgeist stirs up is unfathomable.

This year, the recount of the botched voting system has had me wondering ... are they gonna change the name from I-dols to WE-dols?

That little oops fetched emotional responses from fans. “I’m over Idols!” someone wrote on The Witness website. “I voted a million times and none of them went through. The whole thing is rigged.”

I usually try and hold back the “told-you-so” speech and ask why they watch it in the first place.

“I dunno,” one gentleman relayed to me. “I guess because everyone’s watching it. You know, it’s ordinary people getting their shot at the big time ... and that’s worth supporting.”

Ordinary people is why Idols is so popular. Reality TV makes a considerable profit around the world every year and the production companies don’t have to pay each show’s stars. Most of the time, it’s exploitation at its majestic best. Take this year’s Idols, for example. Over a million votes every week in the final weeks: at R2 per SMS, knock off the network tarrifs and you’re grossing close to R2 million each week. You might say that’s not a lot for a big corporate, but it’s still R2 million you didn’t receive from your usual programming schedule.

And then there’s the advertising. “The winner is ... going to announced after this commercial break.” It in furiates me. Not because I’m desperate to find out the winner, but because the I know that the winner is not seeing a single cent of what that advert cost to be aired at that moment. So after all the hype and chaos, media attention and weeks of glory, they disappear off the public radar, never to be seen or heard of again.

Thankfully, this year there is hope in the form of Jason Hartman. Sasha Lee will have to prove herself, and the previous Idols winners (can you even remember all of their names?) have yet to come out of the woodwork with a bold presence on radio and TV.

But in Hartman, my feeling is that M-Net have finally found the real deal. Take for example, last weekend. Having endured the chaotic ride of Idols, the interviews with various TV shows and publications and the six-hour drive from Johannesburg to the Howick, Hartman arrived at the venue after 9.30pm, got straight out of the bus and walked on stage, and performed for two and half hours.

Having worked as a musician in various capacities for the past decade, he knows what’s needed to carve a successful career in the industry.

He’s well on his way and he won’t come cheap now. Organisers will have to meet the standard (or minimum) performance fee from now on as the Idols winner takes R15 000 per gig. The irony is that the same small venues that have allowed the local boy a space on their small stages to grow and mature as a singer and musician for the past 10 years will now have to fork out a fortune to have him return, and there’s little chance for them of covering costs.

On the one hand, South African musicians and the public should be grateful for a TV show which gives promising, hidden talents a platform to get known. But most of the time, the intention falls flat. Disagree? Where are the past four seasons’ Idol winners?

Again, we can be thankful that this year is different.

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