Meeting an Idol

2012-10-13 06:14

It’s been more than a week since 25 year-old Khaya Mthethwa’s triumphant parade on the Idols stage. Lesley Mofokeng chats to reality TV’s latest news maker.

How has it been? Have you popped bottles and trashed a few hotel rooms in true rock star celebration yet?
It’s been completely awesome. Interviews ... that’s how I have been celebrating thus far.

I am really looking forward to going home this week, and spending time with my family and friends.

It hasn’t sunk in. I was in the shower this morning and I went: ‘Ja neh? This is an incredible feeling.’

How do you feel about the tag of first black Idols winner? It’s such a 90s thing.
It’s been interesting how people want to tag and bring a racial issue into it.

For me as a South African, it’s very important that we start removing those barrier lines in terms of achievement and start celebrating each other as Africans because we are all Africans at the end of the day.

My achievement, I believe, was based on merit.

My goal wasn’t winning because I was black, but because I was serious about my career.

How did you run your campaign?
My campaign was based on ‘guys, if I really did well then I need your votes’.

And they came streaming in.

It’s been interesting and humbling that I have never met the people who talked about me and encouraged others to vote.

They believed in me.

I hope I will meet them some day soon and appreciate them in person.

I didn’t even think half of those celebrities even knew my name and having them campaign for me was an extraordinary thing.

Were you asked to enter Idols?
For the past four years I wanted to enter but I was really freaked out because of all the criticism that follows.

I didn’t know if I could handle the public scrutiny that comes with Idols.

Earlier this year, while procrastinating, my vocal trainer, Sharon William Ross, was the only person who pushed me to enter.

I was never recruited.

The music industry is troubled by piracy and dwindling sales. With your hype and excitement, can you inject some life?
I pray that I do.

Yes, it’s a dream of mine that people buy my music and attend my shows, and resurrect the music industry, but I feel that is based on a couple of things, one of which is consistency.

The album I will release has to bring that excitement people saw on the Idols stage.

As a staunch Christian aren’t you conflicted about being idolised?
The word ‘Idols’ describes a brand, not a person.

I translate it as meaning someone people look up to, being an inspiration and someone they can say ‘that’s what happens when you’re a child of God. You are able to represent your community and the kingdom of God in a way that is pleasing in every sector’.

Being religious can be a stereotype, where I am supposed to sing in church and sing gospel.

 And it’s full of ‘I’m nots’.

My understanding of the life I live as a Christian is that we need to go out into the world and penetrate different industries.

I need to be in a place where people are going to say ‘he’s a Christian and he’s professional, and he knows what he’s doing’. That’s what we have to do as the children of God.

Idols sell sex and flash their bits. What kind of Idol do you think you are?
Sex in the pop and R&B markets is overdone.

I believe there are other ways to sell soul music, with its lyrics presented in a very clever and smart way.

It doesn’t have to be sexual, but it can be creative.

It’s a challenge for me to present myself in the most creative way and stand out in that way rather than settling for the status quo.

I am excited that I can brand myself as a gentleman and a cool guy, a person who is hip and loves his life.

It doesn’t need to be demeaning in any sense.

What are some hard truths you’ve had to accept about yourself after three months on the Idols journey?
I learnt that I need to develop a thicker skin.

I feel there were a lot of things I took personally.

You know when you suddenly put yourself on this platform and people start telling you what needs to go ... I had to get rid of church tendencies and start giving each song what it needs, going on YouTube and studying the material.

I have developed a huge amount of respect for this industry in terms of making sure that I’m prepared.

Performing Super Bass in Theatre Week was a turning point for a lot of your fans. When was it for you?
I didn’t believe in Super Bass at the time that I performed it, to tell you the truth.

I actually thought that people were going to come down hard on me because it’s a hard-core hip-hop song.

Going 180 degrees with this song was a huge risk for me. The turning point was when I received the feedback I got after performing it.

What three things do you always travel with?
My iPod.

I don’t like cellphones that much, but they make the world go around these days. A publicist and two bodyguards, they are always around.

What don’t we know about you?
I’ve lived most of life elokshini in Umlazi.

I’ve never owned my own bedroom.

I’ve never really owned my own bed up until now.

I’ve shared my childhood with a lot of people my parents took in from the church and the community.

That’s why I don’t understand why bodyguards have to push people away because my life has always been centred on people I don’t know.
My parents have also raised me to accept people and make sure that I have something to learn from them.

Shows like Idols produce manufactured stars with no street cred. How will you stay the long haul?
It is a frightening journey in terms of how it starts and Idols is a bit of a microwave, putting you in there and then pop, you’re ­ready-made.

But the onus is on me as a musician.

The show is a complete booster.

I would be the one to blame for my failures and being a surfer trying to ride a wave after it’s gone.

I have to make sure that I build my new wave and that it’s sustainable.

Move, your single, is catching fire. Is that a hint of your sound?
It’s no secret that Idols was either rock or pop. When I met Universal Music A&R (artist and repertoire), I said that I would like to take a different direction with soul and R&B.

They were first skeptical about it, but because they have got mechanisms over the years they have taken the risk.

I am happy that Move is who I am and that the music is what I like.

That’s the direction the album will be taking – very soulful, very R&B, very engaging.

What about gospel?
We are going to have a couple of songs that are gospel.

It’s a huge part of who I am. I don’t think it will be right to have an album and not have that colour in the album.

Two or three tracks based on inspirational music.

Which prizes do you most look forward to enjoying?
Apart from the recording deal, I am stuck between the money and the car.

I love driving. That’s what I do to get my mind off things.

Interestingly enough, when I drive I don’t play music and I don’t listen to the radio.

I zone out. It’s my space.

Why would you leave Durban when it’s the centre of new sound and music?

I am going to live between cities.

I want to have a stable base.

There is a home ground advantage for me in Durban that I can bank on, but I want to push myself further.

 I need to penetrate and permeate the

industry while here in Joburg.

What did great American soul artists such as Otis Redding do for you musically?
I’m inspired by Lalah Hathaway, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye because they sing about life experiences and all my music is written out of life experiences.

That’s what makes their music great.

It wasn’t written just for commercial reasons.

It was about: ‘This is what I am going through. Are you going through it too?’

Which period of music is your favourite?
The 1970s, bordering on the 1980s.

There was a lot that happened in the 70s that laid the foundation for the 80s.

At what point will you say, mission accomplished?
At no point. The end of the world will be ‘mission accomplished’.

I need to live a life that will pave the way for my children and leave a legacy for them.

Everything I do today is about moving towards that.

I don’t want to live a life based on achievement, but on purpose and destiny.

I am very chilled, but I am the go-getter type.

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