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Talent search curse: When the runners-up outrun the winner

by Editorial Team
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By Ranell Dickson Nsereko

It is a disturbing phenomenon, when the runners-up often outrun the winner. For ages, we have had talent search winners fast going to oblivion, forgotten as soon the curtain falls on the crowning night. It is the other contestants who thereafter step up, give us hits and become household names.

It has taken Ruth Grace, the 2014 Coca-Cola Rated Next winner, eight years to produce her first LP. It was released last week, with consistent humdrum reminders that she was the winner of the talent search edition.

Coca-Cola Rated Next second season winner Ruth Grace during an interview at the XFM studios in Industrial Area in Kampala on Monday, May 26, 2014

Compare her to Winnie Nwagi, who she beat to the grand prize. Nwagi is larger than life in all ways that define stardom. Daniel Kaweesa, who won the inaugural edition of the same talent search, remains a name only remembered by the very best of search engines.

Winne Nwagi performing at Smack League’s Match day 10 in 2022. Photo by Karim Ssozi

Before that was the Coca-Cola Popstars that gave us the Blu*3. The real winner of the contest, if popularity was the score mark, is Cindy Sanyu – the one who was allegedly kicked out of the girl group to be replaced by the beautiful face and muted voice of Mya.

The Blu*3 at the Pearl of Africa Music awards Nominee Bash at Kabira Club in 2004

The East African Tusker Project Fame search gave us gold, silver and even sand for many years.

Davis Ntale, who won the fourth edition, is best remembered to sing mere hooks in some all-star songs (The Whistle Song) after that.

In that song, when he said “We’re not young anymore”, we thought he was turning focus to a popular music career. It is, however, Naava Grey who is still riding high. She did not even make it to the finals in the 2008 edition.

However, there are some talent searches that you remember, and you would not care for the winner. The Yolesa Ekitoone talent search on Bukedde TV gave us Nansikombi (Emmanuel Ssengozi), a vulgar artiste who one of the judges, Alex Mukulu, right predicted that he had no future in the music business.

Daniel Kaweesa, who won the inaugural edition of the same talent search, remains a name only remembered by the very best of search engines

As soon as he was thrown out of the competition, he went on a charity drive to collect money to record an album. All you get when you search for him is Nansikombi.

Mere karaoke sessions have given us music starts overtime. Benon, Juliana Kanyomozi, Iryn Namubiru were all regulars at Sabrina’s Pub Karaoke nites in the early 2000s.

Grace Nakimera, Paragon and Gatimo met at a karaoke session in a bowling alley and the result was Ani Akumanyi, which became an instant hit. Nakimera never looked back. The boys went back to their formal jobs later on.

In these talent searches, the Biblical adage that the last shall come first should be taken seriously. How the first keep backsliding until they fall off the podium is said to be a curse by the lazy thinkers and doomsday prophets.

After the camera, lights, action of the competition, there comes a ghostly darkness for most of the winners. Hopefully, this may take a turn for the better. Is it sheer luck?

However, we talked to several experts who tried to explain the dilemma that has been referred to as a curse.

The sing covers and don’t learn – Cindy Sanyu

The winners get carried away by the media attention they get during the competition. They do not realise that after the competition, the actual game starts from zero. You have to do the music as well as branding yourself.

Cindy Sanyu

During the competition, everything is done for you. It is not done by your management team, however. So, when you exit, you have to get your own team and re-start. Most of the winners get reluctant and think they have made it. They fail to understand that they mainly sing covers during the competition, and that is not their music.

They fail to understand that they have to create a new brand different from that of the talent search. When the show organisers hand over the winner to a record label, the artistes should take front seat in making decisions like what kind of genre they should take on.

The winners should use the money won to start afresh if they are really interested in a music career.

The sense of entitlement kills then – Navio

The problem is not with talent exhibitions, nights or competitions. They have always been part of the industry.

For one to make it big in the music industry after winning these competitions, they need to get back to the ground and work as hard as they could to release good music.


The issue becomes entitlement. Most Ugandans are obliged to love you because you won. You have to maintain every fan you have made and add more using the resources you have acquired from the event. That has to be done quickly while you still hold the attention of the media.

Talent search shows entertain, they don’t create an artiste – Benon Mugumbya, former judge at Coca-Cola Rated Next

Having a breakthrough in the music business takes time and indeed it should take time so that by the time one makes it, they have mastered their craft and gained enough experience to be able to maneuver their way around.

It goes beyond just talent. Talent search TV shows or competitions are meant to entertain/engage the viewers and most times they’ll tick this box, but they don’t create an artiste. I don’t think that’s usually the primary mandate for these shows.

Siima Kyakuhaire Sabiti, former judge, Coca-Cola Rated Next

These people don’t fail, rather the industry is an extremely difficult environment to thrive in. It is important to note the parameters that define “making it big”. Success is defined in so many different ways – digital sales/streams, YouTube views, social media followers and so on.

Siima Sabiti

It is not just about the prize money. People join to get an audience with music executives, which is not an easy thing. Such competitions give individuals greater exposure and immediate access to a potential fanbase. There is a chance of going viral whether or not you gave a good audition.

Edward Sendikadiwa, managing director, West Records and self-styled music critic

The cardinal role of these competitions is not to promote musicians or create new music. It is to sell products. During these competitions, these contestants spend time in the academy, but while there, they are not prepared for life after winning.

There is also a problem of managing money. A person who has been on a hustle of sh500,000 per month suddenly finds sh200m on their account. It is in rare cases that the money will be used gainfully. Sometimes the money does more harm to them. Also, there are vultures out there waiting for the winner.

We also have very few professional artistes’ management companies in Uganda. Such people have to be taken on by a management company which can guide them, protect, guide them, motivate them, and tutor them and make good out of them.

Some people have different dreams before joining the competition than being musicians; some join to buy material goods like cars, while others have family issues and their dream maybe building their mothers mansions from this money. Others have dreams of getting married and spending money on their wedding.

What former competition participants say

Sandra Nansambu, Pearl of Africa Star Search winner 2021

She walked away with sh60m.  Sandra says she entered the competition with a dream and passion to make great music. She adds that she has the right people and has the determination to push her music career to greater heights and make it bigger in the mainstream industry.

She thinks that the problem with the past participants is their focus on the prize money and not career. Sandra says most finalists or winners don’t use the big platform they have at that particular moment after winning.

It has been more than a year since Nansambu won, and she is yet to make headlines in mainstream media or even headline a show.

Tracy Mirembe

She was a finalist in Pearl of Africa Star search. She says some winners of such musical competitions relax when they get money and think they have it all. They lose focus. According to her, some people join for the money and not music.

“Others think success is automatic after winning and don’t put in extra effort,” says Mirembe. “Talented or not, one needs to put in the effort.”

This article was first published in New Vision on Friday October 28, 2022

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