The ‘Idols’ in Durban

2012-03-10 00:00

STONERS, spiritual healers and little monsters tried and failed to win the hearts and minds of the Idols judges on Tuesday — but it was fun seeing them try.

Sitting behind the director and camera crew, I watched as hopeful after hopeful took their spot on the Idols badge to face Gareth Cliff, Randall Abrahams and Unathi Msengana — and a couple of interested sharks swimming in the tank behind the judges’ desk.

We were, you see, deep within the bowels of the Phantom Ship at uShaka Marine World, which houses its aquarium. The venue had been commandeered by M-Net and Mzansi Magic for season eight’s Durban auditions, leaving several tourists who’d planned to spend a day at the theme park rather confused. My day started with Siphiwe Madondo, whose performance was heartfelt, but so over the top it even had the notoriously serious Abrahams laughing.

In fact he described the performance as “one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever seen on Idols”. Not entertaining enough to get him to Sun City though.

What followed was variously described by the judges as “torture”, “pretty awful” and “emotionally barren” — and left me feeling like the subject of an auditory assault. How many headache tablets the poor sound man needed to swallow, I dread to think.

A lot of what we see on television is scripted — and there is certainly a level of direction that goes on at the Idols auditions — but some of the comments the judges make between the performances are hysterical. Abrahams and Cliff were both convinced that several of the contestants had been indulging in some Durban Poison — and watching some of those performing, I couldn’t help but agree that they appeared to be away with the fairies. But maybe that’s the ticket to coping with the stress of waiting to be called to audition — get stoned, man.

There were also plenty of contestants whom you simply couldn’t take seriously. Robin Launder and Dominique Horn appeared before the judges dressed in prison uniforms and proceeded to massacre I Will Always Love You — Whitney Houston must have been spinning in her grave, but Dolly Parton was no doubt grateful for the songwriting royalties. At least they were honest about why they were there. The girls told the judges they were out for a bit of fun and to compete for the wooden mic, the prize given to the worst singer of the series.

Dominique also took the chance to kiss Cliff on the cheek, telling him that it had been her dream to do so. It was his second kiss of the day — earlier he’d been on the receiving end of a fishy smooch from Jabulani the seal!

Unfortunately, there are some deluded souls who believe they can sing, that they are South Africa’s next best thing. They definitely won’t appreciate being shortlisted for the wooden mic accolade. I’m thinking here of Jacques Retief, who treated the judges to the chorus of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, and Lady Gaga wannabe Nomacenge Mngoma, who turned up in silver sequins and a hat with a veil and told the judges she was “born this way” – a comment which prompted Cliff to say: “That must have been awkward for your mother.”

I’m sure Mother Monster was happy that Mngoma had a go at singing Bad Romance, but I think the best this contestant can hope for is seeing herself on television.

The judges also have plenty of fun taking the mickey out of each other. Cliff spends his life telling Abrahams he’s an “angry, grumpy man” and trying to get Msengana to laugh until she cried. When he succeeded, it took the make-up artist several minutes to get his fellow judge camera ready again.

Surreal. There’s no other word that describes the whole Idols experience. And I can’t help thinking that the sharks weren’t all that keen on the proceedings. With several contestants they simply disappeared from view. Clearly, like Abrahams, they couldn’t cope with tone-deaf singers either.

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