Monday, October 06, 2008

MTN Project 'Fake' and Sundry

I had the unusual opportunity to watch the TV last Sunday night (unusual, because I often end up doing something else). The programme which caught my attention was the first eviction performance of the 2008 MTN Project Fame West Africa – a singing competition that produced Nigeria’s Dare Art Alade as a second runner-up in a previous edition. Dare, incidentally is one of the duo anchors for this year’s edition. Fifteen contestants originating from four West African countries – Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone – are shortlisted to perform in the 9-week challenge.

MTN Project Fame is the Celtel’s (Zain’s) version of Idols Africa which is also drafted after the order of Simon Fuller’s Idols series. It is well understood that outfits in the same line of business sometimes have to compete with similar strategies and promotions which if otherwise neglected, might be to their detriment.

The first edition of West African version of Idols produced the likes of Timi Dakolo, Omawumi and Eric in 2007 – a crop of prodigies, Nigerians will not forget in hurry. Right from the auditions to the finale, it was evident Nigeria is endowed with legions of brilliant, young people.

I was chanced to watch this year’s edition of Idols East Africa from the gruelling auditions that spanned across many East and southern African countries, to the intriguing eviction performances which I must confess were excellent in content, organisation and delivery. The competition paraded some of Africa’s youngest and best musical talents. Eric, the marvellous and exceptional Zimbabwean bloke from Bulawayo clinched the ultimate prize.

What Idols West Africa 2007 lacked in eminence of studio/acoustics (which I learned was Planet One Studio in Lagos, Nigeria) it compensated for, in the superiority of contestants. Though the final competitors of Idols East Africa 2008 could not be compared with the top-notch finalists of Idols West Africa 2007, the Kenya studio in which the event took place was world-class and in the same league with that of American Idols’. This gave the event much grandeur, finery, grace and fun. Moreover, the contestants’ apparels were very well coutured. In general, the editing, previews, backstage tittle-tattles, interviews were likewise splendidly executed.

Sadly, not a few of the copious high-quality features of Idols East Africa show are conspicuously lacking in the 2008 edition of MTN Project Fame West Africa. The studios used for the auditions that cut across a number of major cities in West African countries were nothing different from music kiosks. Regrettably, the calibre of some of the audition judges beggars competence. This might have informed the quality of the eventual fifteen finalists whose renditions make the finale look like an audition itself.

While a couple of the final contestants tried to prove their own, the acoustics did more mayhem than suitably projecting the participants’ voices which made most of them struggle with their deliveries. Furthermore, the Ultima Studio compared to Kenya’s looks like a local government town hall installed with an obnoxious sound system.

The entrance pieces/intros of most of the contestants were tawdry and disastrous. Albeit, the contestants are being schooled in the Project Fame academy (where they are supposed to be groomed musically) however, their song choices and vocals question what actually go on in there. In addition, not a few of the contestants were ill-dressed for their performances.

Luckily, the first eviction show did not spell doom utterly. The anchors: Dare and Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi; the instructors and judges gave viewers some reason to enjoy the show after all (due to their impeccable expertise), though there were observably some moments of incoordination.

These developments raise certain issues about the entertainment industry in Nigeria. To begin with, the qualities of the 2008 MTN Project Fame West Africa finalists do not reflect the abilities of raw, untapped talents that congest the West African landscape. As a matter of fact, Nigeria alone harbours innumerable first-rate geniuses that will make the work of any recruiter daunting and anything but enviable. However, MTN either through the use of inept judges or inapt event/concept mangers, spent resources (time, human and money) busy recruiting infelicitous individuals into its Project Fame academy.

Secondly, while Nigeria prides itself to be the heart/giant of Africa, nonetheless there exists not on her soil, a single world-class, capacious, indoor entertainment studio (with a first-class acoustic system) for an event of this magnitude. From Lagos to Maiduguri, Calabar to Sokoto, it might be safe to say a state-of-the-art indoor entertainment studio only exists in our imaginations. If Kenya could boast of a magnificent and well-equipped outfit, Nigeria should lose count of such. We should begin to live up to our self-acclaimed big brother position not just in ranting but vivified and material actions.

Thirdly, the packaging and delivery of the 2008 MTN Project Fame West Africa from the outset of audition to the final eviction performances portray dearth of professionalism and required panache.

Finally, in recent times, the Nigerian entertainment industry is flooded with reality TV series, most of which are adaptations or outright reproduction of Western/foreign TV programmes. The growing list includes Idols Africa, The Apprentice Africa, Dragons’ Den, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Show Me the Money, The Intern, Celebrity Takes Two, the controversial Big Brother Africa, Gulder Ultimate Search, Amstel Malta Box Office (AMBO), The Next Movie Star, etc.

It is pitiable enough to be uninventive and non-original; hence it behooves reproducers of these programmes to present same with equal touchstone. After all, what is worth copying at all is worth copying well. Nonetheless, kudos must be given to a number of the programmes whose deliveries have been commendable. In this league, mention can be made of Celebrity Takes Two, The Apprentice Africa and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.