Vanessa Obioha

Arguably, television programming took a new look since the popularity of reality TV shows in the early 2000s. They are now fixtures on our screens that entice magnanimous viewership. Cutting across the arts and entertainment, they have since become almost indispensable.

Most reality shows in Nigeria, like in any other developing country, draw inspirations from the West. From competitions, adventures to celebrity lifestyles, producers of reality television leverage on the mass appeal of these shows to boost ratings as well as financial gains. It is not unlikely then to find blue chip companies throwing their weight behind such projects to increase sales as well as consumers’ loyalty.

However, the fascination of reality shows largely depend on the characters involved and the challenges they surmount in their quest for success. Audiences are drawn into the reality world of the stars through a lens of drama, conflicts, suspense and overall exhilaration that in a way reflects the regular struggles humans face, depending on the script. While the reality of reality shows is very debatable, it undeniably gives ordinary people a place in the stars, particularly in music and arts.

Of all the genres of reality shows, music talent hunt shows are most popular in this part of the world. The reason is not far-fetched. Music has a universal appeal and provides a huge platform for budding artistes.
It is therefore not surprising to find thousands of music hopefuls throng venues for auditions, vying for a shot at stardom, although the outcome largely depends on the reward and sponsorship. For instance, MTN Project Fame garners much viewership based on its mouth-watering prizes.

Notwithstanding, music reality shows have the compelling force to attract enthusiastic followership based on its drama and charisma. Consisting of three important aspects: auditions, competition and reward, viewers follow the contestants in their journey to stardom, accompanied by a rollercoaster of emotions, from tears of joy to regret.

The climax is mostly determined by audience participation, a technique the producers use to heighten the drama. Recently, reality shows have made the judges an essential part of the show. Bringing conflicting personalities spice up the drama and attract more viewership for the show.

As much as these shows put the budding artistes in the spotlight, it doesn’t guarantee them success in the real word. At this junction, the irony of reality shows is metaphorically questioned. Most winners of reality shows fade into oblivion after their victory.

Only few like KC Presh of Star Quest, Iyanya and Chidinma of MTN Project Fame, Yemi Alade of Peak Milk’s Nigeria Got Talent and a few others sustained the celebrity brand after the show. Interestingly, the runner-ups end up taking the shine from winners like in the case of Timi Dakolo and Omawumi of West African Idol. Not until recently did Dakolo find his right footing.

This trend indicates the stereotypical way the shows are designed. Much attention seems to be on the rewards than on the careers of the artistes. It is as if the organisers hands off once the winner is awarded his prize. Moreover, it is easy for the winner to be overwhelmed by the stupendous gift especially if he or she comes from a humble background.

Lacking the basic knowledge of show business inadvertently truncates the success of the career. This has resulted in many questioning the value of these shows besides the apparent monetary prizes.
Perhaps, it is against this backdrop that EbonyLife TV and Chocolate City Record Label teamed up to change the face of music reality shows. In a recent press briefing, the duo announced the birth of ‘Chocolate City Unsigned’ which is supposed to be the game changer in music talent hunt.

The idea is simple; scout for musical talents across the continent and groom them in the competition until a winner is crowned. It all looks familiar only that in this case, the winner’s career starts after the show.
“Our journey in the past ten years is to look for talents who we can sign on. One of the greatest changes I face every day as the CEO of a record label is that someone is always asking me to sign on a friend or a relative. This got me thinking how I’m going to sign everybody but of course that’s not possible. So about two years ago we decided to go for a talent hunt.

“The feedback we got from our fans on social media was massive. Again, we had to look for someone who shares the vision with us. We don’t want to do what everyone else is doing where the artiste gets the monetary prize and a car. This is because there has never been any team that helps the artiste builds a career beyond the prizes.
“That is where ‘Chocolate City Unsigned’ is different. The artiste remains unsigned until he is signed with us. This hunt is going to be different because we will discover that talent wherever he or she may be, even in Sokoto,” said the CEO of Chocolate City Record Label, Audu Maikori.

What this means for the winner is that he not only wins the prize but also gets signed on the label which have offices spread across the continent. An optimistic Jude Abaga (MI) who is an executive in the label stressed that Unsigned will be a huge success because it is a departure from the norm.

According to him, it is a show that’s put together by practitioners in the industry who understands the nitty-gritty of the music business. Moreso, the artiste will be a member of the Choc family instantly and what this means is that he is introduced to the world of business in the music industry.
Citing himself as a product of the record label, MI believes that the artiste at the end of the day gains a lot from the seasoned professionals he or she will be working with.

With this in view, the artiste’s greatest reward for participating in the show is that he has a career that is managed by professionals; a point which Life Coach and executive director of EbonyLife TV, Lanre Olusola was quick to emphasise by stating that “Talent can only take you to the top but cannot keep you there.”

The imminent challenge for the organisers will be the sustenance of these contracts being that it has quite a few artistes signed on to the label. However, MI believes it is not daunting at all but rather gives room for expansion of the company. Audu added that the winner has the privilege to produce three singles under the label.

EbonyLife TV again scores a huge point by partnering with a record label to produce a reality show. No doubt, the CEO and founder Mo Abudu is not slowing down in her quest for success. Having successfully bought franchises and produced indigenous programmes, Mo believes that Chocolate City Unsigned will put Nigeria in a global spotlight.

“I’m particularly excited about this partnership because Audu and I have been talking about this show for two years. I believe we share the same vision of discovering and building stars. The unique selling point of this show is that we are dealing with an organisation that has made stars in Nigeria and in Africa. So they have the recipe to make a star across the continent and the peculiarities which other shows lack.

“When you work with an organisation that understands the nuances, complications of working in this environment, you would not want another partner. What I admire most in them is the professionalism in which they do their business. That was one of the major attractions for us. They have the structure to discover these stars and put them in their rightful place in the world; which is what Chocolate City Unsigned is all about.

“It is about finding that one talent we are going to sign every year. This is the beginning of the first show that will serve as a format to others because we understand what it is to find a local star, produce a local star and make them an international global star”, said Abudu.

Concerning sponsorship, the organisers deftly shied away from that but hinted that there is a massive selection of sponsors that will be unveiled later in the year.

If everything should go as planned, then Chocolate City Unsigned will be the first ever indigenous pan-African talent hunt show created with the sole aim of discovering, developing and supporting fresh artistes, giving them a platform to showcase their skills, launching them into a professional career of instant music sensation, stardom and celebrity status.
The show is billed to start in May while registration of participants will kick off in March.