South Africa’s Got Talent – and so much more!

South Africans are generally resourceful and outgoing, and music plays a huge role in many of our cultures. Maybe this writer is biased, but we are bursting at the seams with talent, most of it flying under the radar, because of lack of funds, or living in remote villages or towns. But thanks to social media, so many casual videos of talented singers, dancers and artists have gone viral and led to life-changing opportunities. One such young person was busking on a train station in Cape Town, videoed by another traveller who uploaded it to Facebook in 2016 and it went viral. The headline on read: “Who needs Idols? We have social media… the story of how Derek Plaatjies went from street busker to superstar in 24 hours”. 

Actually, our local talent do need Idols and other singing competitions to help them stand out from the crowd. Derek Plaaitjies, from the small town of Saron in the Western Cape, made it to the finals of SA’s Got Talent later that year. Only a poor choice of song robbed him of the first prize. Here’s one of his outstanding performances which got him the Golden Buzzer: 

Idols and Eye Rolls (from Simon) 

When the TV show ‘Pop Idol’ hit the airwaves in the UK on 6 October 2001, little did we realize that this entertainment format would explode all around the world and endure for two decades and counting. Simon Fuller, the originator of Pop Idol must now be a very, very rich man. And so must Simon Cowell, the judge everyone loves to hate! 

The UK version only ran for three years, when it was dropped as Simon Cowell started ‘The X Factor’. Now just named ‘Idols’, the show was franchised globally and has become the world’s most watched TV franchise, with over 56 regions adopting it around the world, and broadcast to 150 countries and an audience of roughly 3.2 billion people! (Stats via Wikipedia.) 

Week by week, those who got through the audition phase and made it onto the stage were eliminated one by one, after having received the least number of votes from the public. What fascinated audiences, especially the original UK Pop Idol, were the auditions, many of which were aired early in the season, with some truly untalented singers trying their luck. We think some went on the show as a laugh just to be seen on TV, while others perhaps genuinely thought they were good enough to be on the show but hugely, hugely overestimated their talent! Simon Cowell became infamous for being outspokenly scathing, a part of the show which audiences found highly entertaining and/or cringeworthy. 

This entertaining part of the show was also exported all over the world with great success, including to South Africa. However, Cowell’s cutting sarcasm has never been topped by anyone else. (He did, however, tone it down just a bit over the years, and has even been moved to tears on occasion, I kid you not.) 

Idols South Africa started its first season in 2002, and it’s still going strong. The judge who lasted almost through all the seasons was Randall Abrahams, whose mostly scowling demeanour was our version of Simon Cowell, as well as Gareth Cliff, who was also very generous with uncomplimentary remarks during the auditions. The first season was won by Heinz Winckler, followed by a string of winners who have all had a moderate degree of success in their ensuing musical careers. 

While we had some excellent talent making it through to the final stages, however some of the early hopefuls were just … awful. Here’s a reminder of what the judges had to endure while digging out the diamonds from the rubble. 

The X Factor South Africa that quickly became the EX Factor

A Simon Cowell creation, the X Factor UK has been another huge success. The ”X Factor" of the name  refers to the undefinable ‘something’, a unique specialness that gives someone star quality. (If you want to sound extra posh, you can say it in French: “she has a certain je ne sais quoi”.)

Like Idols, the X Factor UK has been hugely successful as well as being franchised around the globe, with Italy and Denmark hosting the longest running number of seasons, with Hungary and Kazakhstan having excellent staying power too. The show has a somewhat different format to Idols, where the judges not only critique the artist’s performance but also mentor the finalists in a number of categories, such as song choice and vocal styling.

Sadly, the only season of The X Factor South Africa aired from September until December 2014. It was won by three-member band, Four. Watch one of their winning performances:

For financial reasons, a second season was not commissioned. The company involved in producing the show obviously had a clear lack of the X Factor; absolutely no je ne sais quoi!

SA’s Got Talent? Yes, they have!

The Got Talent franchise (yet another winner from Simon Cowell) broadened the programme to attract participants with different talents, with acts ranging from singing, dancing, comedy, magic, stunts, variety, and other genres. Like all the other competitions, participants must successfully impress the judges in auditions to win a place in the live episodes of a season. Needless to say, all over the world, some very strange performances have shocked, amused  and surprised audiences around the globe. From Season 6 in the original series, the Golden Buzzer was introduced, allowing the performer/s who were showered in gold confetti to proceed firectly to the live show stage. The first SA performer to get the Golden buzzer was 12-year-old Henno William.

The SA version (SAGT) ran from 2009 to 2017 and winners were mostly singers, although dancers from the Krytonite Dance Academy won in 2016 and a capella group AnecNote were the 2017 winners.

For a full overview of series: 

The Ndlovu Youth Choir in America’s Got Talent 2019

South Africa’s – and all of Africa’s – pride and joy simply sailed to the AGT finals on their stunning performances of youthful exuberance, fantastic harmonising, wonderful costumes and dance moves, proudly showing off their African culture in multiple indigenous languages as well as English. They would definitely have won, except they were up against an exceptional 22-year old, Kodi Lee, born blind and autistic, who is a musical savant with a beautiful singing voice, and whose life story and flawless performaces stirred strong emotions in the audience and judges.

Watch Ndlovu’s phenomenally uplifting final performance:

And then we heard ‘The Voice’ calling …

The Voice South Africa is a local version of The Voice of Holland, which first aired in the Netherlands in 2010, only suspended at the beginning of 2021. SA’s first season started in January 2016 and proved to be a hit on M-Net. The second and third season took place in 2017 and 2019 respectively. A fourth season was set for 2020, but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the name suggests, the show is all about ‘the  voice’, literally. Contestants are selected in blind auditions, where the coaches cannot see, but only hear the auditioner. The four judges’ chairs face away from the singer, and if one likes what they hear they turn to face the contestant. Of the four judges, a minimum of three must turn their chairs, or the person is eliminated from the competition. Similar to the X Factor, the judges who are themselves popular performing artists are also coaches, who train the contestants in their group and occasionally perform with them.

Winners so far have been Richard Stirton (2016), Craig Lucas (2017) and Tasché Burger (2019).

Watch Richard Stirton during the blind Audition stage:

Finally …

Although there was no formal competition for ‘Song Causing the Most Viral Videos on Social Media’, the winner would hands down be ‘Jerusalema’, by South African DJ and record producer Master KG featuring South African vocalist Nomcebo. The ‘Jerusalema Dance Challenge’ apparently started in Angola, then exploded all over the world, with dances featuring Italian police, Irish nuns and everyone in between. The song itself became hugely popular with its official video on YouTube garnering over 491 million views to date.

For old time’s sake (20020/2021) watch a compilation of what flooded our screens for a few months – infectiously uplifting during tough times