From the Magazine: 9 ways to be a Nigerian Idol

As Nigerian Idol rolls to a close this weekend, we share our profile of the 1st American Idol in our last but one edition!

by Chilee Agunanna

 With her album ‘Follow U’ just in the market, and a new season of the hit show set to start, Chilee Agunanna shares the lessons from Nigeria’s latest star 

 “I dream big, I intend to step up to the global stage. My dream is to take my brand of Nigerian music to the world.”

The Idol franchise is a global phenomenon, which has produced genuine and reputable music stars all around the world. It arrived in Nigeria last year; and in March this year, Yeka Onka won the inaugural edition.

With her title as the first ever Nigerian Idol, Yeka became a pacesetter and a true model for others to follow. Building from Yeka’s journey to this enviable title, we present ten ways to become a Nigerian Idol.


“If the road is good, you walk it twice.” That popular Igbo proverb holds true for Yeka. An audition is the first step in a talent hunt. Yeka found the Nigerian Idol audition doors so good that she didn’t just walk twice, she walked it thrice.

She first auditioned in Enugu, then Calabar, and finally Lagos where she was passed to the next level.

Many auditions gave up at the first try, but Yeka didn’t, and this says a lot about the character of the young lady. “I hardly give up on anything I put my heart to,” she said when asked about her three-city journey to conquering the auditions. “I would have gone to ten auditions just to qualify because I believed I could do it and no number of rejections would have stopped me.”


At the time it happened, Yeka was over herself with joy at the experience.

“Just dreaming about performing with a global icon is wonderful enough. Actually getting the chance to perform with Christy Essien-Igbokwe is more than a dream come true and the experience will live with me for the rest of my life. The Lady of Songs is someone I had always admired since I was a kid.”

That was on the final day of the show. The two finalists, Yeka and Naomi were yet to find out who was to become the first ever Nigerian Idol and as they sang the beautiful lines of the classic “Seun Rere,” the Lady of Songs herself joined them onstage and chaperoned them to creating one of the most iconic images in the musical history of Nigeria.

“We never knew she was going to be there with us live on that day; the organisers never told us,” Yeka had said in an interview, but they went on to give a memorable performance fit for the finale of a show a big as the Nigerian Idol. That was the last recorded public performance of Christy Essien-Igbokwe as she passed on to glory on June 30, 2011, to Yeka’s great disappointment and grief.

Yeka would go on to perform alongside Chidinma of Project Fame, Benita Okojie and Naomi (Nigerian Idol runner up) as they once again sang the songs of the Lady of Songs on, at her final Tribute Nite held on Tuesday, September 6, 2011.


I don’t know which one of the numerous success nuggets work, but “You have to dream big if you want to be big” seems pretty cool and appropriate here. And knowing the character of our Nigerian Idol, her dreams might not be too farfetched as they might just come to pass too.

 “I dream big, I intend to step up to the global stage. My dream is to take my brand of Nigerian music to the world, I look forward to performing alongside musical greats like Whitney Houston, Beyonce or Alicia Keys and I see myself receiving
international awards,” she says.

Kelly Clarkson, Rubben Studdard, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson are Idol alumni, living their dreams and now, our own Yeka is on her way there.


There is nothing like starting early in life and there’s nothing greater than family imbued values – they last a lifetime. Yeka grew up surrounded by music and it has become her life.

Her father was a renowned choirmaster and instrumentalist in the Aba musical circles and her mom was a beautiful singer. Together, they formed the fulcrum of the Onwuka Family Band made up of Yeka and her siblings. It was here that she was introduced to music and she grew to become very passionate about it. The skills and confidence she got from this background propelled her to becoming the first Nigerian Idol.


  1. MAKE UP YOUR MIND – SCHOOL OR SHOW? To pursue your passions, there is usually a sacrifice, you have to make. In Yeka’s case, she had to suspend her university education. She was and still is a student of History and International Relations at the University of Calabar, though. And she has no plan to drop out completely.

 “My school work is very important to me,
despite the demands of  my career, I still intend to graduate.”

Her new status has elevated her in the eyes of her fellow students but she does not let it get to her head when relating with them. “I try my best to make them know that I am just another student like everyone else. I do not court extra attention and I go about my business like every other student.”



Another significant quality of our Nigerian Idol, Yeka, is her imposing height. At approximately 6”3, she is one very tall girl – and curved in the right places; a gift that has seen her gracing runways. “I love fashion!” she says excitedly, “I have done a bit of runway modelling and I will do a lot more in fashion in the future. My clothes are like my music; I am a dynamic dresser, I like to dress according to my moods which mean a lot of fun, colours and fabulously fashionable outfits!”


Beauty hardly rests in a single place. Yeka’s beauty transcends just her voice. In 2006, she was crowned Miss Abia State but a career solely based on her “physical attributes” as she puts it was not all the 26-year-old cared for. “Being the queen of my state opened doors for me but I wanted much more than that.” And she got it.



“I have been told and I also know that I have a strong and deep voice. Even with that, I can hit high notes. I’m not saying there are no other female singers that can do it but it is my major strength.” 

It’s no wonder she was called Nigeria’s Whitney Houston during the competition. Part of that comparison comes from her beautiful rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” which she had also sung during her first audition.
Yeka is a song-writer and she gets the material for her songs from life experiences, “I have experienced a lot of ups and downs
in my life and I see and hear everyday what people go through, that is more than enough material for my songs.”


Asked about her experiences since becoming an Idol, Yeka reminisces: “I can spend the whole day just talking about the experiences I’ve had since then. I mean it’s pretty interesting coming from where I used to be; the type of life I used to live back then to a life of fame and little or no privacy. It can be both frustrating and stressful but it’s very amazing too. I love this kind of life better. I mean all the attention and the VIP treatment you get for being a recognisable face.  For instance, when I get to a bank, I don’t need to stand in a queue, I’m attended to very quickly. But sometimes, I wish I could travel back in time and take bikes or go to a “Mama Put” and order for “Pomo” N10, Beans N50 and rice N70!” she laughs. 

If you keep to these rules, by the time you receive the IDOL makeover at the end, this part of Yeka’s testimony would be among the least of yours! Y!



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