This week, Living the Dream with Somizi will premiere on local screens, allowing the popular choreographer, actor and entertainer Somizi Mhlongo to add ‘reality star’ to his CV. But does he feel like he’s arrived? Somgaga chats to Gugulethu Mhlungu
Somizi Mhlongo is a man of many names. He’s known as Somizi, SomSom, Somgaga, SomG, and there’s still Madame Gigi. If there were ever a South African celeb child, it would be the 42-year-old Mhlongo.
The son of celebrated veteran actors Ndaba Mhlongo and Mary Twala, Somgaga has been “on the road” from the age of two, travelling with his parents as they performed around the country. “I have always been a performer. Performing is in my blood,” says the Orlando East-raised choreographer, performer, emcee, and Idols judge. And on Wednesday, the first episode of Living the Dream with Somizi, his new reality TV show, will air on Mzanzi Magic.
“It just happened ... I have never ever thought about having a reality TV show, of having people and cameras following me around and documenting parts of my life, but now, I think I am in a good space [for it].”
When we speak, he’s on the set of Idols season 12, on the Wild Coast.
“What really makes where I am a good place is my fan base,” he says, “which has grown a lot over the last year or so, and they have been so supportive that they are almost like my friends, so this show offers them a little more. This show is really for my fans.” The promo for the show shows four different Somizis: a flamboyant Somgaga in a fabulous over-the-top maroon jacket; SomSom the choreographer in black fitness wear, sneakers and a bright blue jacket; Mhlongo the businessman in a black suit with sparkly embellishments on the lapel; and Somizi number four who is looking at all them in the mirror and says, “To my fans, I am a star. To the industry ... a perfectionist. To my team ... the vision. Together, I am living the dream!”
On the public and the private
Living the Dream will extend the glimpse into his world he’s provided on Instagram where he shares some of his day-to-day activities. He says it will show “interactions with my mother, my relationship with my daughter and my friends – most of whom are straight – and my hustle”.
Are there any areas that are off limits? SomG says yes and adds, “I don’t think there is a reality TV show without some control on what finally goes to air. Otherwise you would see me in the shower, in the nude, making love ... and that’s not necessary. But I can say that the show will show you more than you know...”
Despite his profile, Mhlongo has in fact managed to keep large parts of his life private. His mother Twala and his 21-year-old daughter Bahumi Madisakwane have each appeared only a few times on his Instagram. He is also intensely private about who he is in a relationship with. He says, “I am smarter than a lot of people think I am ... and that’s how I am still in the game after so many years. We all have our skeletons, our dark places which only the people closest to you, or that were there with you, know about. A lot of people then share that stuff with the world, but for me some things are just private. And one thing I am very clear about is to never ever put the person I am dating on social media or in public, out of respect for them. Especially because the other person almost always loses their identity when they date someone with a public profile, and they become so-and-so’s boyfriend/girlfriend and even after you break up they are then ‘the ex’.”
He says his new show won’t be the usual messiness that is often expected from and seen on reality TV shows. “I’m not about drama and scandal, that’s not what my life is about. There’s more to life than that.”
He’s clear about what will be in the show: “Expect to see me living my dream in all its fabulosity, blood, sweat and bling. What you’ll see is exactly who I am: crazy, pacey, fun, fast, and loud. But more than anything, it is laughter and inspiration in one pot.”
On the hustle
“I believe I am one of the hardest working people on the continent but people don’t know that,” says Mhlongo.
In the age of #slaying, and chronicling every bit of work done on various social media platforms, Somizi says he doesn’t go there, and often that means people don’t think he’s working. But he says he’s always hustling and that his motto for life is: “Always stay hungry for you to never go hungry again.”
He says he treats every gig as though it’s his very last. “Right now, I am shooting Idols season 12 and I am as excited as if it is the first time I am doing it and as if it is my last job ... People often speak about arriving. As in ‘I have arrived’ and I don’t want to arrive, I never want to arrive. Because for as ngisaphefumula, ngizohlala ng’kudla (as long I am still breathing, I will keep grinding/hustling).”
He says people often have no idea what it takes to have the life he has. “People just see me sipping champagne in business class, or in my Louboutins, my this or my that or at a gig in Durban, a gig in Kimberley, but no one really knows what’s happening to make all that happen...” He explains: “Let me give you an example. Easter Weekend. Every Easter my family and I go to Swaziland to visit family, and this year after one night there I left and drove back to Jozi for a gig in Tembisa from 1pm to 4pm. At 5pm I went to Bloem for another gig where I was emcee, from Bloem drove to Kimberley for a gig where I worked until 6am and then flew out to Durban, on the same day, to do another gig until 3pm. People only see me posting from Kimberley or Durban but not realising that it was all in the same 24 hour timeframe. And when people ask me, I tell them that it’s not easy and that you can take all the multivitamins and energy drinks in the world, but in the end what will keep you going is your passion and love for your work. Because that’s what’s going to keep you motivated when you haven’t seen your bed in hours and hours.”
On being true to yourself
Last year, when SomSom was announced as the newest Idols judge, many were sceptical. “A lot people were asking, ‘What does he know about music?’. Never mind that my music career is three decades long, and I know my stuff. So in some ways I wanted to prove a point, but also just to be myself,” says the DStv Explora ambassador whose “Woooo shem!” and often outlandish hairdos quickly became a trend.
In spite of all the knowledge and confidence he knew he had, he says he was still nervous. “It was nerve-racking coming into an established thing. Idols had been running for over 10 seasons and then they added me so there was pressure. And I am who I am so I wasn’t going to be anyone but me... But I was very nervous, it was a new chapter, and something I had always wanted to do and I had to keep reminding myself that I belonged there and not to focus on the devil, who was trying to distract me,” says the star who also performed at the season finale, with Sama winner Nakhane Touré.
And the decision to add Somizi to the judging panel paid off, with Idols season 11 being their biggest yet. Somgaga, who has “never been in the closet” says the issue of homophobia is still a very real and hard one, but also adds emphatically: “I always say that I would rather be hated for who I really am than loved for who I am not. And I think those of us with a platform have a responsibility to try and make it easier for others. But I will say that I don’t think it’s as bad as it used to be. I want to believe that it’s getting better and I am hoping that we are fighting homophobia in the same way that we are fighting racism. So that gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans people can also be allowed to live their lives in peace.”
On keeping the faith
Although he’s been at for longer than a lot of his younger fans have been alive, Mhlongo says he’s just getting started: “I still have so much to offer. I could wake up tomorrow and start a make-up range, or a clothing line or a shoe collection. Or I could wake up and start a restaurant, or start a talk show that would last 11 years. And all of these things would all do well. I also have dreams of staging the biggest musical, and producing the biggest dance movie on the continent... It’s all up to God, and I am not even halfway done. There’s a lot in my bag of talents. I am here because God wants me to be here and I know that he who has not made Somizi cannot destroy Somizi and only God has made me so I will only be done when he says I’m done.”
Somizi attributes all his success and longevity to the grace of God, and says, “Everything I am is God. My whole life is testament to him. From the air I breathe, the clothes on my back, the shelter over my head, all of it. If you don’t believe in God, you only need to look at my life for proof that he is real.”
* Living the Dream with Somizi premieres on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161) on Wednesday April 13 at 8pm