Ed.: This week’s main feature is on Nigerian Idol which ended on Friday 6 April and saw another female singer, Mercy Chinwo, emerge as the winner. After beating thousands to win the Nigerian Idol prize, this petite dynamo had the will, drive and strength to make her dreams come true.
by Ifeoma Areh
You might just notice her as the petite, cute, young woman walking towards the stage, but as Nigerian Idol winner Mercy Chinwo comes closer, a few things come to mind. First her walk; a quick and confident swag and soon she is centre stage. Her smile; she pauses briefly before the microphone and then she beams her mega-watt smile, seizing everyone’s attention and getting a thousand smiles in return. Her voice; she opens her mouth and you can hear a collective intake of breath in the audience.
Whatever you say, Chinwo is a visual and vocal dynamite and she knows how and when to detonate.
The sound of music
From the tomboy with stringy brown hair who auditioned fearlessly in Port Harcourt, Chinwo has come a very long way. A Daddy’s girl at heart, she learned to love and appreciate music at the feet of her late father, someone she quotes as believing in her musical ability from a very tender age and encouraging her to join the children’s choir, a move that would lead the feisty young teenager to become music director at the age of 14. “My father was my greatest source of encouragement,” she reminisces. “He would take me everywhere with him and would teach me traditional songs all the time, that was where my voice grew and gained confidence.”
The road to fame and fortune
Her journey into Nigerian Idol was a planned decision with one goal in sight: to become the next Nigerian Idol. From her auditions, Chinwo knew she had to impress the judges and this she did with a powerful performance of Whitney’s ‘Greatest Love’. This would be the first of many standing ovations the diminutive songbird would receive from Nigerian Idol’s hard-to-please judges.
The road to the title was not always smooth, but a determined Chinwo was not one to back off at challenges. In the top 30 stage, she took an enormous risk and ventured into pop, selecting Brandy’s ‘I Wanna be Down’. It was a performance that earned her the respect of the judges and audience for her gutsy and entertaining interpretation. Her gutsy choices continued with the most difficult song selections in the competition; Chinwo would go on to perform Beyonce’s ‘Halo’, Amerie’s ‘One Thing’, PSquare’s ‘Chop my Money’ and the performance that earned her Femi Kuti’s respect, Fela’s ‘Zombie’. She explains her choices saying, “I understood that the one thing I needed to win was to be myself and be different, to stand out. That is why I made the choices I made. I knew I could pull them off, I learnt that from my father.”
Chinwo has earned the respect of the industry’s best from Grammy nominee Femi Kuti to rap superstar MI. “You remind me of my grandmother and Fela’s mother, Funmilayo,” Femi Kuti told her after she stunned the crowd with ‘Zombie’. Your confidence and showmanship are amazing.” For MI, a standing ovation was not enough, the hard-to-please rapper made his offer immediately. “If you do not win Nigerian Idol, he stated categorically, Chocolate City or Loopy records will sign you!” he promised.
Work now, play later
Chinwo’s work ethic was unrivalled during her time on the show.
“I believe in work now, play later,” she would always say. Her rehearsals would go on and on until she was assured that she had given her best.
The effort and planning that went into each of her performances was unmistakable on the Idol stage. Every wave of her hand, every note she played with, she had planned to the barest minimum. “Mercy drove herself to perfection,” a member of the team of trainers said. “She did not stop until she was satisfied, you could see that she took every little detail of her performance seriously.” He added.
Liitle Miss Mischief
“She is a mischievous tomboy,” Honey Adum, a top 12 finalist said of Mercy during an interview. “When she wants to play, nobody can stop her.” This is clear from the twinkle in her eyes when she answers questions or the faraway look she has when she recollects the taste of some ‘sweet food’ from a local ‘mama put’ in Port Harcourt. When she won the golden ticket to the Dream Studios after her auditions, the drama queen let out a loud whoop before dancing all over the stage.
Mercy, Mercy Me!
After every performance, Nigerian Idol judge, Jeffrey Daniel would praise her in Marvin Gaye’s words-‘Mercy, Mercy Me’. “Mercy never fails to raise the bar,” Jeffrey noted. “She is a born performer and you can trust that whatever material you give her, she will definitely deliver.” Her fan base on the show sky rocketed in her few weeks on TV getting a massive followership in the UK even among non-Africans. Her videos were popular on the Nigerian Idol YouTube channel, even grabbing the attention of international mainstream blogs like popjustice.com who praised her ‘dramatic’ performance of Whitney Houston’s ‘I look to you’.
The diva emerges
Make no mistake; Chinwo is aware of the responsibility that has been placed on her shoulders and the hard work it will take to get there. She is quick to dispel any illusions that she has arrived. “I am grateful for this platform,” she says quietly. It could have been anyone else, but I thank God and everyone who made it possible that it was me.” She plans to invest her winnings in what she has called ‘self-development’. “I intend to develop myself to the highest stage, to get there, I have a lot to learn and I must learn.”
Of the future, she is quick to add: “I am also in search of my style; I need to define what it is so I can move on to the next level. I intend to find the secret ingredient; I want to take Nigeria to the world, to the Grammy’s.”
After beating thousands to win the Nigerian Idol prize, this petite dynamo has the will, drive and strength to make her dreams come true.
After the interview, a short video of Mercy at the Port Harcourt auditions plays across the screen. She is singing to someone’s guitar “I am gonna be the next Nigerian Idol, I am gonna be the next Nigerian Idol…”