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As @The_XFactorSA comes to an end, we go behind the scenes on the show.

With only three contestants remaining in The X-Factor South Africa, it’s now down to the wire. Buhle Mbonambi goes behind the scenes of SA’s most watched reality show

It’s been six months since the search for South Africa’s next big thing in music started and this coming Saturday on SABC 1 at 6pm, we will find out just who it is that South Africa has chosen to be the winner of the first season of SABC 1’s The X-Factor South Africa.

As one of the most popular reality competition franchises around the world, with 43 countries currently boasting their own version, Simon Cowell’s The X-Factor is one of the most popular reality competition shows in the world. It’s second only to Cowell’s other reality competition show, Got Talent, which is currently in 58 countries.

It therefore wasn’t a surprise that Rapid Blue’s CEO, Duncan Irvine acquired the show for a South African market. “We have had the licence for the show for quite some time now,” he said on The X-Tra Factor, a behind the scenes show. “I tried to convince the SABC 1 for close to two years that they should get this show for their audiences. They were the best channel for it.” Numbers wise, of course it was the right channel. As of the latest TAMS ratings, it’s the most watched reality show in South Africa with just over two million people watching the performances and 2, 7 million people watching the results show. Yes. It’s bigger than M-Net’s Idols and chances are the winner will be more popular than recent Idol’s winner, Vincent Bones.

Executive producer of the X-Factor and Rapid Blue’s head of TV, Ed Worster is happy about the ratings and how people have received the show. 
“We are happy about our first season. We have great ratings too, which is always great. We are getting great feedback from viewers at home; the contestants also have a big following. That shows the show is a success,” he said.
“And what makes the show even better, is how involved the studio audience is. Every single performance gets an amazing response from the Durban crowd, which then urges the contestants to give their best on the stage, every time.”

What has made The X-Factor a success around the world (bar for the US, which cancelled the show earlier this year) is instead of the usual judges, the judges act as mentors and are responsible for grooming the talent for the show. Zonke Dikana, Arno Carstens and Oskido are the mentors for the local version of the show, with Zonke and Oskido the only mentors who still have acts ahead of the finale.
“It’s a competition between the mentors too and the way they have taken to it, while not as hectic as the UK version of the show, they are passionate about their acts and will defend them from the other mentors’ snide comments.”

X-Factor is a huge production, easily one of the biggest in South African TV at the moment. So it’s not surprising that there’s a hubbub of activity at the Olive Convention Centre when I arrive. At the time of the set visit, there were five remaining acts, each with their own treatment, plus another treatment for the collaborations they were going to going to sing. “It’s a mammoth task,” Ed confirms. “The crew needs to know every bit of information about the song, the choreography, the costume and styling so we can prepare the right lighting for the show. It takes a huge team to pull it all together, in the set time and we have done that.”

Aspects such as song choice, vocal coaching, wardrobe, and choreography are important for the show to be entertaining, and to also show the talent of the contestants. Each week there’s a theme, from the Great South African Song Book and songs with inspirational lyrics, to Top 10 hits and dance songs, the theme is a guide for the generally mood, song choice, styling and choreography. So the contestants will work with their mentors, then go into voice training with coach, Debbie Mari, before they see their performance outfit and do the fittings and then off to choreography. 

Kevin Ellis is the choreographer for the show and he works closely with the show’s creative director, Andrew Timm. The attention to detail is son important, that a simple twenty second entrance scene takes more than 20 minutes to rehearse. You could even see the contestants’ faces tense up- either because they are irritated with why it’s taking so long, or that they would rather be practicing their songs.


Ellis also handles the wardrobe and styling of the contestants, with Gareth Graves, which is where the sometimes the show gets it very right and some at times so wrong. Viewers were recently wowed when Iziqhaza group member, Khanyisa Mbuthu wore a white gown, stood on a box and graphics were projected onto the dress. Boy band, Four, are always impeccably dressed and well groomed, while Eliezer Hilmer and Wandaboy Ngubeni don’t set trends, but still look decent. However it wasn’t always good.

Eliminated contestants, Bubbles Mnomiya and Princess Mekoa have each faced backlash with their styling on the show. Bubbles was once styled as a fairy princess for the second live show and Princess once wore a Moulin Rouge inspired outfit. Both outfits were not suited to the sings they were performing and led to viewers commenting about their style in a negative way. During their session with Ellis, the remaining contestants were vocal about their outfits, what they wanted to wear and what they wouldn’t wear.
As Steven Lewis of Four said: “Our image is very important to us- it’s almost as important as the performance.”

Future of the Show
As the show comes to an end next week, it would be a shock if SABC 1 doesn’t commission a new season. The live shows have been some of the best entertainment on local TV this year and in a couple of years, it will surely be the biggest show in the country. Now is the time for Rapid Blue and SABC 1 to check what went wrong (the audience didn’t like the audition phase of the show), what worked (the six chair challenge is awesome and brings some drama to the show and Andile Ncube has been a great host) what didn’t work (the judges houses segment of the show didn’t show any mentoring) and most importantly- how they will make sure that the winner becomes a real player in the music industry. 

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