Our country’s two biggest showbiz exports are the award-winning Charlize Theron and, more recently, District 9’s Sharlto Copley. Maybe the elusive Hollywood dream is why thousands of South Africans willingly stand in winding queues for days for a shot at fame and riches. Perhaps hope does spring eternal.
With a bevy of avenues to choose from to show your talent – from So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) and SA’s Got Talent, to Idols and Pop Stars; wannabe celebrities are spoilt for choice.
But the millions of viewers who tune in every year are captivated by the same routines, same song choices and even some of the same comments by the judges of these shows that are really fascinating.
In fact, in shows like SYTYCD and Idols, contestants are even recycled. Take Jamie-Lee Sexton and Lyle Volkwyn, for example. Both have already had their shot at fame – Sexton made it to the top 12 of Idols two years ago and Volkwyn participated in the High School Musical reality show.
So even though it’s not really new and shiny talent that is being tapped every year, viewers are still tuning in for the same ’ol same ’ol.
The other aspect of these shows that seem to appeal to audiences are the rags-to-riches and sorrow-to-happiness stories that play out each week.
Remember Karen the apple-sorter from Ceres? Now we have the guitar-strumming Elvis Blue teacher from George with his heart-tugging story of why he auditioned for Idols. Then there was that unemployed guy with the oily hair and small clothes, Frankie Moss; and Adeline, the model whose father just pulled through of cancer bout. Oh, and let’s not forget the dreary accountant who wants to make a difference in the world.
Each episode shows how much closer that contestant edges toward the top. The “top” being a little cash, some deal and a new car – the ultimate status symbol of success in South Africa.
According to TVSA editor Tashi Tagg: “These shows portray just how easy it is to get that record deal and ultimate fame. They seem to offer a genuine opportunity to people who wouldn’t necessarily have made it into the industry, and this appeals to the audience.
“South Africans love watching other people do well, it is the aspirational aspect that is captivating.”
The “grandfather” of the talent shows, Popstars, as executive producer Keith Lindsey calls it, is back after taking a six-year break. The show unleashed Pam Andrews as part of 101 and girl group Jamali.
According to Lindsey, these talent search-type contests offer stories of personal triumph. He says: “South Africa’s TV-watching audience has grown in the last few years and with this comes the opportunity for national pride and pride in the contestants by family and friends. The shows have a domino effect where communities tune in.”
Professor Keyan Tomaselli from the Centre for Communication, Media and Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal says: “Audiences watch talent competitions because these programmes democratise access to potential fame and otherwise elusive fortunes. Anybody can apply to participate and get rewarded for both talent and mediocrity. The former results in a prize and the latter often ends in humiliation.
“No matter, the media exposure received from these shows is consolation for those who don’t make it and is always the objective for those who do.
“Narcissism is the main driving force in reality TV.”