The judges: Kwame, Bibie and TY Mix
Reality TV talent shows aren't the place for producing globetrotting megastars, although they have done: it was winning the "Benson and Hedges Grab Da Mic" competition in 2000 that launched the careers of Peter and Paul Okoye, better known as P-Square. But we don't really expect that to happen often. For the most part, so long as the winners' post-contest singles, videos and albums are reasonably enjoyable and significantly better than anything you or I could do, and, more importantly, so long as the artists don't disappear from sight as quickly as they appeared, everybody's happy; fans get some nail-biting entertainment during the contests, the TV stations and production companies get viewers and advertising money, and some individuals whose talents would otherwise have remained hidden are at least given their 15 minutes of fame and a shot at launching a career.
Versions of Endemol-produced Star Academy run in 50 countries around the world, and the West African version, or rather, the English-West African version - Project Fame West Africa - is now in its fifth season. There are 16 countries in the region, but contestants are drawn from four of the five English-speaking countries: Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. French-speaking and Portuguese-speaking West Africa might as well be on a different continent.
So far, while none of the Project Fame West Africa winners is firmly established, some of their post-contest singles suggest they could do so with the right management and material.
Here are some of the most recent offerings from the four. See what you think.
Season 1 winner: Iyanya Mbuk (Nigeria)
Iyanya Mbuk's Kukere, a successful mix of Coupé-Décalé (Ivory Coast), Naija music and Azonto (Ghana) deserves all the radio play it got in Nigeria, where the man is from. It's been four years since Iyanya hit the limelight, and though in that time he's released an album and performed all over Nigeria (and at the Ghana music awards with the winners from seasons 2 and 3), it was this track that finally made people think, hmm, perhaps this guy's really gonna deliver after all.
The video, which features the popular Etighi dance, also helped. The dance is an art form from the Calabar/Akwa Ibom area where he grew up, and it took over from the previously popular Alanta dance).
Season 2: Mike Anyasodo (Nigeria)
Mike Anyasodo does R&B and Soul with a hint of reggae, and has released a few decent singles - Adamma, Sweet Pass, Alright, Fine Fine Lady (ft illBliss, produced by Cobhams), and Lucy - of which Wankoloma and Fine Fine Lady are the most notable.
Season 3: Chidinma (Nigeria)
Chidinma is up for the "Best New Act of the Year" award at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards, and thoroughlerly deserves her nomination; she really can sing. In an ideal world, that'd be a given for any singer, but not being a good singer hasn't done Madonna's career any harm. If we had to bet on one of the four winners to date breaking through and sustaining a credible career, our money would be on Chidinma.
Currently working on her debut album with producers like Cobhams Asuquo, Teey Mix, WazBeat and Oscar Heman Ackah, here's the video for Kedike, her second single to date.
Season 4: Monica Ogah (Nigeria)
The fourth season finale was only a few months ago (in December, 2011), so it's perhaps a bit soon to expect videos from Monica Ogah, although they are on the way (to be directed by Nigeria's most creative director, Clarence Peters), but she recently released the three singles, and is working on her debut album.
http://content.omroep.nl/ghettoradio/musicblog/monica_ogah_below.mp3 Below (Right-click to DOWNLOAD)
http://content.omroep.nl/ghettoradio/musicblog/monica_ogah_i_wish_sey.mp3 I Wish Say (Right-click to DOWNLOAD)
Auditions are currently under way for Season 5.