No short cuts to fame

Gino Lee at his new recording studio in River Road.
Gino Lee at his new recording studio in River Road.
Image: fredlin adriaan

A chance at fame or journey to bitter disappointment? The jury is out when it comes to talent scouting opportunities overseas.

With many aspiring artists scraping to get a foot into at least one door that will pave a path to stardom, so too have there been a number of talent scouts selling them the ultimate dream — a chance to be signed to talent agencies abroad.

Throughout the year, talent scouting agents hold regional auditions across SA identifying aspiring actors, singers, models and dancers and shortlisting them to attend workshops in Johannesburg, where producers, talent managers and casting directors from New York City and Los Angeles scout for new talent. .

While these opportunities raise the hopes of many hopefuls who view them as a one-way ticket to attaining their dreams, they also raise the eyebrows of several organisations in the SA arts industry.

Some claim the agencies sell desperate aspiring artists an unrealistic dream that is not worth the money — about R60,000 — they are often expected to cough up.

However, International Arts Talent Showcase (also known as Arts Africa) — one of several such platforms — talent scout Sonwabile Gingqishe said their fees covered two boot camps, flights, transport in New York, accommodation, costumes, sightseeing, participation in the convention and competitions.

Gingqishe said IATS did not guarantee any international signings, but offered a platform for talent and international agencies to meet and explore possibilities of working together.

SA Guild of Actors vice-chair Adrian Gallery said their organisation had received complaints from parents of children who had apparently been scouted, only to discover they had to spend large sums of money for further coaching.

“On doing some research, we discovered there are many such ‘talent search’ outfits operating globally,” Galley said.

“Despite what is depicted in the reach-for a-dream world of Idols, America’s Got Talent and The Voice, there are no shortcuts to stardom.”

Though the platforms operated legitimately and within the law, Galley said, they sold the dream of overnight success to desperate people who most likely had to overextend themselves financially to pay the money required.

Galley’s sentiments are a reality for former Port Elizabeth drama student Jamie Smith, 19, who was scouted to take part at the SA Championships of Performing Arts in Gauteng and later the World Championship of Performing Arts in Los Angeles at the age of 10.

Her family claims they had to raise about R300,000 for their trip to LA and back.

“My mom basically cashed out my student fund and we had to have bake sales and stuff to raise funds,” Smith said.

Jamie’s mother, Marlize Smith said: “My husband was very cynical about it so he made his own calculations and found it would have cost a lot less money if we made our own bookings.”

She said Jamie had to recover from disappointment when she realised the competition did not match the realistic standard of the arts industry.

Smith said she had been told to expect interest from loads of talent hunters, but she returned from the World Champs not having been recruited by anyone.

Smith is now studying medicinal chemistry in Auckland.

However, Port Elizabeth singer Gino Lee has a different story to tell about the IATS.

Lee was scouted by Arts Africa’s Elsubie Verlinden to perform at the Johannesburg convention in the 2012 showcase and then the ARTS Convention in Florida in 2013, where he received 13 callbacks and received a New York Film Academy scholarship.

The scholarship covered half of Lee’s tuition fees.

Lee said artists had to put in hard work and form good relationships to get the results they wanted from the platform.

“About four of the 13 callbacks [from scouts] I received were fruitful.

“I received the NY Film Academy scholarship, and the following year I made use of the contacts I had made from the callbacks to shoot some commercials, music videos and TV shows,” he said.

Lee, who recently opened a recording studio in PE and is signed to New York label ONErpm, said the platform was worth all the money and effort.

Port Elizabeth drama teacher Linda-Louise Swain said
she had experience with some students who had returned from international platforms disappointed and their parents left out of pocket.

Another Port Elizabeth drama teacher, who asked not to be named, advised against such platforms, saying they sold an unattainable idea of overnight success at a high cost.

Gingqishe said: “Its not possible for 100% of our artists to get callbacks because it is also about the effort you put in during rehearsals and workshops to give your best performance in front of the agents.”