|Champ: Khaya and me this morning|
Khaya Mthethwa is South Africa’s shiniest new star. But a single sleepness night after winning the biggest reality show in the history of South African broadcasting there he was, an ordinary bloke with a beaming smile.
A Buccaneer. With a touch of Mario Balotelli thrown in.
Truth is, the man crowned winner of Idols is a thoroughly nice chap – and an ardent supporter of English Premier League Champions Manchester City, not to mention South Africa’s PSL treble champions Orlando Pirates.
I caught up with him in the cramped lobby outside my producer’s box at 702 in Sandton. There was the usual congratulatory hug then I asked the vital question: which football team do you support?
“It’s got to be Manchester City,” he grinned, “They’re the best team I’ve seen. Mario Balotelli? Oh yes!”
But locally? “Orlando Pirates… I’m a Buccaneer! I love my football, I play when I can, always loved it. I played at school. And Andile Jali should be in the Bafana Bafana squad!”
Khaya is not typical starry-eyed wannabe using reality television to hit the heights. He’s a God-fearing lad from Durban. Eager to please, modest, grateful. He started his morning at 702 with my Early Breakfast host Shaka Sisulu, referring to him as “Mr Sisulu” and replying to questions about media pressure by recalling: “I got some valuable advice from one of the judges, Gareth Cliff. He said, as long as I live my life thruthfully, I have nothing to fear from anyone.
“Right now, at this moment in this studio at 10 to six in the morning, I am the happiest man in South Africa. And I hardly feel tired at all!”
Later, on John Robbie’s breakfast show, Khaya revealed: “I am a completely different person to the man I was three months ago. Then I was a musician struggling to make a living, to prove to my parents I could make it.
“At school we were all forced to audition for the school choir, my teachers would ask me to sing and I never really wanted to!
”But both my parents are pastors at our church and that’s where I fell in love with music and I decided that this is what I wanted to do.
“I remember the first audition in uShaka Marine World in Durban. I was nearly falling asleep, I’d been waiting for so long to do my piece, the queues were huge. But the judges gave me my chance.
“The most important thing was to convince my dad I was doing the right thing. But after the Theatre Week he was convinced. My whole family came to watch every one of my live Idols shows. Even when they should have been doing other things. I’m so grateful for that.
“I look up my father, he is my hero. He taught me to be the man I am today.
“You won’t believe the amount of work DSTV do behind the scenes to make sure I am prepared for this moment. It’s enormous. They teach you how to deal with the hype, the social media, the attention. It’s like they stick you in a microwave, push a button and you come out ready.”
Robbie, the former Irish rugby player and tough-tackling, award-winning interviewer, didn’t take it easy on Mthethwa. When he compared him “all young and athletic” to the three men in court for the murder of former heavyweight boxing champion Corrie Sanders this week, Khaya didn’t flinch. He said: “I just hope I can be a role model for young people in South Africa, that they can see what can be achieved. There is another way.”
Robbie warned the devout Christian how his faith would be tested, how he would experience things he had never expected as a reality television star. But Khaya took it all on the chin, leaving Robbie raving: “Honestly, I’ve never watched Idols in my life. I only grabbed Khaya in the corridor outside because I knew he’d won, and I‘m always interested in winners.
“I have to say, after talking to him, he is one of the most impressive young men I have ever met. An absolute joy to talk to.”
There are political undertones of course. Khaya’s victory – the first Idols win by a black South African in eight attempts – came at the expense of the extremely attractive rival finalist Melissa Alison with a record THREE MILLION votes cast in the weeks building up to Tuesday night’s sparkling finale at Mosaiek Tatro in Fairland.
But Khaya, a staunch Christian and a member of Joyous Celebration, insists he “gets sad" about the race issue. It was left to his close pal and radio presenter Akhumzi Jezile to say: “I’ve never seen so many black people excited about Idols.”
And as Khaya prepares for a new life armed with a winners’ cheque of R1m and a recording contract with Universal Music, Jezile added: "I believed in Khaya from his first audition. When he decided to enter, he came to my mom's house carrying a stack of CDs. The only one I remember was Bruno Mars. And that was what got him through his first audition – Bruno’s The Way You Are."