Race issue colors M-Net’s ‘Idols’

Dispatches - South Africa

JOHANNESBURG — A spat over race is dogging paybox M-Net’s second South African “Idols” talent show, which will choose its winner Oct. 19.

Favorite Francisca Blasich pulled out at the end of September, saying officials had pressured her to answer if she was “white or colored” — the classification used by the former apartheid government for people of mixed race in South Africa. “Francisca replied that she thought the competition was about the best voice and talent and that her race should have nothing to do with the competition,” says her manager Boebie Hamsa.

Francisca’s withdrawal follows weeks of intense media debate over public concerns that the paybox’s predominantly white aud would back a white singer to win, as in 2002 when Heinz Winkler beat black singers whom many critics regarded as more talented.

To counter this, M-Net changed the voting system giving the judges a 40% say in who goes through rather than leaving it all up to viewers.

Many now believe the paybox is determined to produce a non-white winner to prove the show is not racist.

Carl Fischer, director of M-Net local productions, says race has been discussed with the contestants but denied the station had already decided it needed a “non-white” winner.

The “Idols” spat follows the public debate that raged during M-Net’s “Big Brother Africa” over whether the sole white contestant, Stephan Ludik of Namibia, had the right to represent his country and call himself African when his ancestors were from Europe.

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