Vanessa Obioha reports that the grand finale of Season 7 of the Christian-centred God’s Children Got Talent attracted an eclectic myriad of youths and adults who came to witness a masterly display of diverse incredible creative talents

You could feel the palpable tension in the packed hall of the Eko Convention Centre, Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos, as the hosts Uti Nwachukwu and Ayo Thompson prepared to reveal the first bottom five of God’s Children Great Talent Season 7. The gamut of emotions displayed on the faces of both adults and children bore similar expressions of anxiety. The evening had been a spectacular one. So much incredible talents from the 10 finalists had probably left the audience with more than one favourite, or perhaps a change of mind.
Who could blame them? This year’s edition was a keenly contested one that got millions of viewers glued to their TV screens for the weekly shows.

Arguably, children talent shows are not too popular in Nigeria. The few shows hardly garner much devotion compared to other talent shows. However, God’s Children Great Talent proved otherwise not only as the only Christian-centred talent quest for children and teens between ages five and twenty, but also as a model for seamless production. The latter was greatly achieved via the combined efforts of Darey Art-Alade’s Livespot Creative Agency and leading app platform, Unity. It is a known fact that most reality shows in Nigeria revolve round music. Hardly can one find a reality show that effortlessly marry other forms of creative arts on one platform. In a bid to recognise and celebrate talents in God’s children, GCGT embraces talents in four major categories: Music, Dance, Comedy and Spoken Word. The music category embraces all forms of music; be it rap, singing, or instrument playing.

For the first time since its debut six years ago, the talent show recorded the highest number of entrants. Over 10, 000 entrants registered while over 6, 000 showed up for the auditions in three regional locations: Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. The number was further pruned to 20 semi-finalists who made it to the academy /boot camp where their talents were further drilled by professionals as well as mentored on leadership by renowned leaders like Tonye Cole of the Sahara Group and Herbert Wigwe of HOW Foundation. Out of these emerged the 10 finalists battling for the ultimate reward of N10m cash prize, N250m management deal and a Kia Rio car. They were Anderson Peter (Saxophonist), Goodluck Enoch (Rapper), Olawonuola Kehinde (Dancer), Sophia Albert (Spoken word artist), Nengi Jaja (Singer), Deborah Oladipupo (Drummer), Esther Benyeogo (Singer), Damilare Bafunso (Saxophonist), Joseph Odi (Drummer), and Emmanuel Osahor (Dancer).

It wasn’t going to be an easy feat for the young finalists whose ages were within the range of 8-20 years old. It called for endless rehearsals with their coaches to perfect their talents. They had to impress the judges: prolific music producer and engineer Tee-Y Mix; award-winning singer and songwriter, Omawumi; and eclectic dancer and choreographer, Kaffy. And of course the audience whose votes would also count in the overall result.

So penultimate Saturday, an eclectic myriad of youths stormed the venue to witness the phenomenal grand-finale of the talent show for God’s children. Decked in their casual and formal outfits, even school uniforms, they posed on the blue carpet for selfies and wefies. Proud parents willingly indulged their progeny in the blue carpet glitz. The children gleefully pointed to images of their favourite contestant adorning the walls to their parents.

Despite being a youth oriented programme, renowned big wigs in the entertainment industry like Ayo Animashaun attended the show. His entertainment TV channel, HIPTV, did a live broadcast of the show.

Inside, attendees struggled for seats. Every available place was occupied. From upstairs to downstairs, there were no empty seats. The ushers did their best to control the traffic to avoid rowdiness. At a time, more seats were brought in. Yet, some guests who came late, stood through the entire show.

While the organisers failed to kick off at the scheduled time, the production was a seamless one. Each line-up performance for the night segued smoothly without a glitch. The only hitch of the night was when Uti’s mic went off for a few minutes. The stage was aesthetically designed to accommodate the performances. A huge screen displayed accompanying visuals of performance and adverts from the lead sponsor, HOW Foundation. Only one screen was provided in the hall for extra viewing.

The contestants first of all dazzled the audience with a combined presentation, before they performed individually for the first round.
Joseph Odi was the first to perform. Nicknamed the ‘Drum Beast’, he beat the drum sets with vigour and pleasure, playing familiar sounds that pooled the audience to a cheerful sing-along.

One-by-one, they filed out, spitting fire on stage with their displays, eliciting loud ovation and screams from the audience. The audience was visibly awed by nine year-old Goodluck Enoch who dazed them with his rap song, ‘I’m blessed.’ He was clearly a crowd favourite particularly when he prayed for them after his second performance of the night.

But he wasn’t the only attraction of the night. Nine-year-old Olawonuola Kehinde left a lasting impression on the audience with her ballerina performance. She flipped in the air, did a split or two and performed other stunts that got jaws dropped.

Nengi Jaja from Port Harcourt showed his vocal strength when he performed a high pitch rendition of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston’s ‘When You Believe’. The 11-year-old’s magical voice was well applauded.

While the crowd was impressed by Jaja’s voice, they were further amazed by the angelic mien of 19-year-old Esther Benyeogo. Her rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘Greatest Love of All’ earned her laudable remarks from the judges, including guest judge TY Bello. By the time she performed Diana Ross’ ‘He Lives in Me’, the audience was completely blown away.

It was a battle of sounds between 20 year-old Damilare Bafunso and eight-year-old Anderson Peter. Both displayed such mastery of the saxophone that marvelled the audience. However, it was Peter that warmed the hearts of the audience with his lovely charm and gestures. His exceptional stage showmanship was very applauded, then he blew the mind of the audience with his longer notes. Surely, his gentle mien and age was a big contrast to his masterly handling of the big instrument.

If looks could clinch the winning spot, then it would facilely go to 19-year-old Deborah Oladipupo. Her dazzling smiles as she struck the drums were very captivating. The ease with which she played the drums made her performance very enjoyable.

The only spoken word artist on the list, 10 year-old Sophia Albert, commanded the attention of the audience during her second performance. Titled ‘Mother’, her words adequately captured the joy and travails of motherhood. With beautiful lines and rhymes, she elicited a loud ovation from the audience.

Emmanuel Osahor, the 20-year-old who expresses himself through dance gave a better performance in the first round. His colourful LED robot costume enhanced his performance and created a beautiful effect on stage.

With all these amazing performances, the tension in the hall could be understood. Each of the performers deserved to win and which the organisers, City of David Parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, eventually ensured.

Each of the seven finalists were rewarded with N250,000 cash. The 1st and 2nd runner-up received N1m and N3m respectively.
There were also guest performances from Nikki Laoye, Darey Art-Alade, Frank Edwards, Enitan Adaba and GCGT Season 6 winner, Onome Enakerakpor.

As the time of reckoning approached, breaths were held, hands rested on heads, some stood, others sat, waiting for the hosts to reveal the seven finalists. Voting lines had closed earlier so it was time to know the fate of these talented ones.

Shouts of despair and disappointment rented the air as the names were reeled out, particularly when Enoch and Kehinde didn’t make it to the top three. Then it was left to Nengi Jaja, Anderson Peter and Esther Benyeogo. More screams of disappointment filled the air when Jaja clinched the third position. Immediately Esther was pronounced the winner, a deafening sound engulfed the hall. It was a mix of joy for the winner and letdown for Peter. Nevertheless, the celebratory mood went into full swing. Esther was crowned the winner and awarded the grand prize. It was the biggest she had ever won in her life. Before GCGT, she had won N300,000 from a singing competition. For this, she was N10m richer, had a management deal worth N250m and a car of her own. As the new ambassador of the talent quest, the Delta-state born will undergo various leadership programmes to ensure that her talent reaches its full potentials while being a responsible youth in the society.

The next day saw Esther being extremely grateful. Looking tired from the eight weeks of intense training as we sat in one of the meeting rooms at Eko Hotels and Suites, she was very grateful that all the efforts were successful in the end.
With Esther, there was no room for second-best. “My kind of person doesn’t give room for anything except the best. If I’m involved in something and I believe it’s going to work, I put in all my efforts to ensure that it works,” she said.

The undergraduate of University of Benin started singing at an early age but not until age 13 did she realise that she could sing in front of a crowd. Her biggest inspiration, she revealed, was from God.

Looking back at the event the previous night, she adjudged her fellow contestants winners as well.
“All the contestants that qualified for the finals were amazing. Honestly, I didn’t see anyone as competition. I was blessed by what they did. They were all fantastic. But I still had this mindset that- Esther you are really the best.”

The songs she performed were intentionally chosen by her because of the different ways they inspire her.
“I have my own personal spiritual revelation of the songs. For ‘He Lives in Me’, Christ lives in me. He watches over me, everything I do. ‘The Greatest Love of All’ was directed to the parents and future parents to encourage their children to pursue their path of greatness.”

A member of Christ Embassy, Esther described the whole experience as a wonderful one. With new found fame, she intend to work on some of her penned songs and definitely impact souls with her voice. One of the messages Esther was keen on spreading was encouraging talented youths not to give up on God.

“Most of the youths have this notion that they cannot make it in gospel music but only in the secular genre. I don’t think it’s true. First of all, my talent and every other person’s talent was given by God. I remember in one of the leadership classes, we were taught that God is our creator and has given each of us a talent. Now, you have to connect with your source which is God to make your talent bless and impact lives. For me, I think you just have to know your creator. That’s what I did. I recognised I could sing and I connected with my source; God. I feel the young people should hold on to their talents and trust God to take them to their destined places.”