By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published October 4, 2009
For the third time in a row Tanzania has walked empty-handed from the Tusker Project Fame Academy, but the show that will unveil “East Africa’s Next Big Talent” in a fortnight from now seems to leave the audiences with a bad taste long after it is over. The credibility, fairness and the worthiness of the TPF is always put to the test whenever someone reminisces about this reality TV show that has held in Nairobi, Kenya, since 2006. But more questionably is why only young, beautiful girls tend to win at the show while the male contestants hardly ever walk out with the ultimate prize! BETHSHEBA ACHITSA, who has been snooping around, files this report.
Though Tanzania has what can be termed as vibrant musicians who have got many a music lover across East Africa thrilled, it seems that the country cannot produce worthy participants to the TPF academy in Kenya. Tanzania’s hope of clinching the much coveted Sh5 million (about US$62,500) in 2009 were thwarted when the sole survivor in the regional reality TV show, Illuminata Rwelamira, was evicted on September 19, 2009. The fight for the big prize now lies between the host Kenya and Uganda who are represented by two and three contestants, respectively.
Interestingly enough, the show has only two men competing against a strong field of four women indicating that the chances of the male participants being the ultimate winners are slim. With female contestants walking away with the top prizes year in year out, it does not go down well with many that East Africa’s young men cannot match up to the female participants. It is also not believable that none of TPF’s top musician picks has gone on to any kind of significant success.
In the last two editions Valerie Kimani of Kenya and Esther Nabaasa Mugizi of Uganda have carried the ultimate prizes in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Yet after these ultimate winners leave the academy they fail to live up to the expectations of many. Other contestants who did not even make it to the finals have however gone to greater heights in the music world when compared to the TPF ‘winners’ who complete their whole course at the academy. Take the instance of Nakaaya Sumari of Tanzania; in 2006 Sumari left the TPF academy in tears after she had not only been eliminated but also told by one of the trainers to consider a career change.
But as if to prove the academy judges wrong she has produced songs that have received recognition in East Africa and more notably has signed a contract with Sony BMG where her music will be distributed alongside that of renowned artists such as Mary J Blige, R Kelly and Alicia Keys. Wendy Kimani is also poised for a successful career as her talent on the music scene is felt at various musical functions and events where she performs.
So does TPF steer people to fame or are the people who are propelling the leading East African Breweries beer brand to fame?
In any way that any one would want to answer the question, the response is a disheartening one. Tusker, other than making the participants richer when it comes to talent, has not done what many would have expected. Star quality in the entertainment industry is determined by audience reaction and liking after all. And the reality show has failed here. Distinct voices and audience appeal appear to have reigned at the academy over the years. The fact that TPF does not make a follow up of the contestants after they leave the academy indicates that the show is not interested in what the contestants do after they leave their academy.
The fact that contestants, who have personal interests in the academy, are given a chance to save contestants who are put on probation by judges is also not understood. As such, the contestants conspire against fellow contestants who seem to be a threat to their success at the academy. This was witnessed when Stephen Oundo of Uganda (2008) and the controversial exit of Kenya’s Debarl Ainea from the academy in 2009 proved that it is not actually the lack of talent but personal interests that determines one’s fate at the academy.
Judgment at the academy is perhaps a conspicuous inbuilt weakness. Why Ian Mbugua, a thespian, has consistently been appearing on the judging panel is not clear. What is it that Tusker Project Fame sees in him that is not possessed by other people within the industry in Kenya? He might have a great voice and a respected be considered a great thespian but his often disses and jabbing at the academy for the three years have ceased being funny anymore and his undue criticism discourages rather than encourages hard work among the contestants.
More irritatingly is the decision of the organisers to retain Sheila Mwanyigha as the show’s presenter. Having served in the same capacity for the three years everything she does and says is so predictable. Even East Africans are tired of seeing the same faces; doesn’t East Africa have anyone good enough to replace the two and spice up the drab show?
TPF 2009, which was thought to be bigger and better than the 2008 edition, has failed to live up to the billing. Having welcomed Rwanda to join Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, it is true that the 2009 edition has grown bigger but for anyone who was hoping that the show which usually brings viewers pointless drama and on-screen romance would be any better, ‘disappointment’ is what the show leaves one with. With laid back contestants whose gusto, vitality and competitive spirit is not yet ascertained by the viewers, the show is perhaps, for lack of a better description, not a little too boring.