The ‘Got Talent’ program was technically launched in 2005, but it was only until it moved to the United States of America with the ‘America’s Got Talent’ in June 2006 that it officially set sail for a journey to the Guinness Book of Records.
Today, ‘Got Talent’ has moved to over 70 countries worldwide and has been formally recognized as the most successful reality TV show ever.
It therefore came as no surprise when early this year it was announced that the ‘Got Talent’ platform was finally coming to the region under the flagship title ‘East Africa’s Got Talent.’
Auditions were conducted across four countries – Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya – through May and June, with the ones in Nairobi having to be extended due to growing demand.
The judges – Jeff Koinange (Kenya), Vanessa Mdee (Tanzania), Gaetano Kagwa (Uganda), DJ Contact Makeda (Rwanda) – were officially unveiled on July 13 and, on August 4, the show officially premiered across the four countries simultaneously.
There was excitement and anticipation in the room as the first contestants, an 11-member crew from Uganda calling themselves ‘All Eyes On Us,’ stepped onto the stage for their performance.
The crew, made up of mostly kids aged 17 and below, were an acrobatic and dancing group that left the crowd as well as the judges bowing to them while yelling ‘Igwe’ (which, in Igbo, loosely translates to ‘King’).
“You give so much hope to street children and homeless kids out there,” said Judge Jeff Koinange, before giving the ‘All Eyes On You’ crew one of four ‘Yes’ votes.
Next up was Kenya’s comic John Kibe with his talking instrument Wandindi that he started playing in high school due to bullying.
Ten years later, Kibe was able to turn that horrible experience into a positive one, as he strutted the Wandindi to repeat the words of the judges – even Vanessa Mdee’s “Vee money on the track…” signature line – all the way to the second unanimous ‘Yes’ votes of the night.
Tanzanian national Mariam Nasoro followed it up with a performance that saw her juggle a basket and a table using only her feet while upside down.
The 25-year-old walked away with three ‘Yes’s from Koinange, Makeda and Mdee; with Gaetano voting ‘No’ because he felt the performance lacked “that thing” required for a platform as big as East Africa’s Got Talent.
Then came Rwandan preacher-turned-singer Fidel who, with just his guitar, gave such a soulful performance of a French song titled ‘Ne me quitte pas’ [translation: ‘Don’t leave me’] that even got show host Anne Kansiime saying “I’m in love yet I don’t know what he just said.”
The crooner walked away with four ‘Yes’ [or in French: ‘Oui’] votes from the judges and proceeds to the next round.
An acrobatic set by Tanzanian duo The Bongas wasn’t enough to convince Judge Makeda that it deserved to win the $50,000 (Ksh.5 million) cash prize; it however got nods from the remaining three judges, with Judge Vanessa urging them to “do more” in the next stage.
Judge Vanessa hit the first red buzzer of the night (closely followed by Gaetano) for Kenyan-born Elvis Nyaruri who belted out an old school country song. According to the judges, he tried too hard to be the late famous American singer Elvis Presley as opposed to being himself.
Lingwanda Chande, stage name Six, from Tanzania then took to the stage in his traditional attire and a bamboo flute in hand.
Judge Jeff hit the red buzzer soon as he started playing, with Makeda following suit soon after, but Six later captured the hearts of the audience and Judge Gaetano when he played the flute using his nose.
It was however not enough to send him through as the rest of the judges all voted ‘No.’
Uruyange, a Rwandan group made of 5 young girls backed up by their adult director, wowed the stage with their traditional attire and dance moves but it was, perhaps, their smiles that won over the audience and the judges as they walked off with four ‘Yes’ votes.
Gloria and Vincent from Nairobi brought out their A-Game to the show with a steamy well-choreographed dance routine to a love song that brought out a beautiful story. They sailed through to the next stage with unanimous ‘Yes’ votes.
Then came the highlight of the night, 7-year-old Ugandan Leyna Kagere’s powerful rendition of ‘One day at a time’ originally by Lynda Randle that got judges Vanessa and Makeda on their feet even before she could finish.
After the comments from the judges, a visibly wowed Vanessa hit the show’s first golden buzzer – much to the elation of the audience – before rushing on stage to hug the little star and her mother.
Kenya’s Dan, from Migori County, was perhaps the most underwhelming performer of the night with his ‘aspiring professional mourner’ skit that got all four red buzzers from all four judges.
“Tutaonana baadaye,” said Jeff to the contestant. “Keep mourning.