By Nigel Nassar
Some judges chew you up and spit you. Some handle you with baby gloves. Others are neither here, nor there. But that eclectic mix is what makes contest judges an unforgettable item in reality television shows.
The Coca-Cola Rated Next Sing It competition, now in its second season, has on board that very blend of judges in Siima Sabiti, Sharpe Ssewali and Benon Mugumbya.
These three decide the fate of the wana-be singers scampering to take home the heavily coveted jackpot of sh50m and a recording contract with Swangz Avenue.
Already, they have been to Mbarara, Masaka and Kampala, accompanied by a search team, killing some hopefuls’ dreams and nourishing some, as you will find out every Sunday on Urban TV and TV West, 7:00pm.
Today, the judges are at it again in Arua, and you can go try your luck at impressing them if you suspect you can sing. You just might get a “yes”. But while you make your way there, you could imbibe on some info about your judges. Who are they?
The judges making up in preparation for the auditions. Photos/Abu Mwesigwa
Sharpe Ssewali II
His judging personae
For many, Judge Sharpe, as he’s commonly known, will be the one that chews you up and spits you. Yes, he has those moments, mostly with time-wasting contestants who insist they can sing yet there’s nothing musical about them.
Also, straight-up indiscipline gives you the boot with Sharpe – Last Friday he booted a hopeful who showed while chewing gum.
Plus, Sharpe seems to like his contestants looking the part. From his disinterested look when a dirty or shabby contestant walks in, you can bet one of these days he will kick out a contestant because they are dirty or something.
For him, it’s the whole package, the reason his face lights up when someone shows up and they look good, composed and ready, like they prepared for their audition.
Judge Sharpe is as blunt and brutally honest as they come, and will tell you that your audition was “crappy” or “forgettable” or “lousy” or “boring” – could even be worse, depending on which nit-picking side of his bed he woke up on. But that aside, Sharpe actually has a soft side to him, especially if a contestant appeals to his emotions, or looks vulnerable in any way.
And if he likes you, it gets so hard for him to say “no”, as he really grapples with the decision before going like, “sorry darling, it’s a no.” And for the record, the most second chances to crying hopefuls have been given by Sharpe – Does he fear tears? Could be.
At a glance.
He is the 13th of 14 children born to the late Dr. G.M. Sewali and the late Princess Alexandra Kuliva Luwedde. He is an acclaimed singer/song writer, with more than 15 years in the music industry.
As a founding member of the gospel outfit First Love, the dreadlocked judge traversed the world with the group, ministering in song with colleagues Paul Kim (R.I.P.), Fred Walusimbi, James Ddamba and Nicholas Mayanja.
Also a screen writer cum director, Sharpe is the CEO of First Love Features, the production house behind Season Two of Coca-Cola Rated Next Sing It.
He went to Kampala Kindergarten, Nakasero Primary, Lincoln International, Makerere College, Mengo S.S, and the East African Civil Aviation Academy in Soroti, where he studied aviation and wanted to be an astronaut.
Sharpe is a born-again Christian, and insists on prayer before any journey or the auditions’ kick-off.
Her Judging personae
This judge has quite a sentence of names; forget the usual Siima Sabiti that we choose to use. In real sense, she is Siima Kyakuhaire Kyomuhendo Sabiti. And that can be contextually translated into, “Appreciate what God has given you, for it’s worthy, Sabiti.” Full sentence, huh?
Well, back to the contest, Judge Siima, the girl power on the trio of judges, is also the harmonizing factor between Sharpe and Benon, always safely sandwiched between the two, and enjoying the feeling too.
When a guy is auditioning to a romantic song, it’s Siima they serenade. And when they do that, they might succeed in getting themselves liked. But luck be upon them, Siima won’t give a “yes” just because you serenaded her or she liked you.
She will smile, and then say “no” if your singing didn’t quite nail it for her. Then there will be moments when she’s just about the only one saying “no”, like forever. At such moments, you want to brand her the judge who chews you up and spits you.
Then, suddenly, Siima is the super nice one. With her, there’s always a sort of fluctuation between characters, so it’ shard to place her. But what stands out about her is that she will advise you about your choice of song vis-à-vis kind of voice, and tell you what songs to totally stay away from.
Screw up your lyrics and Siima will be the first to arrest you, “for she knows the lyrics to all the songs in the world” – that is the going joke behind the scenes.
At a glance.
The station manager of X FM, where she doubles as a presenter, Siima is an accomplished flutist who commands top dollar playing at aristocratic functions. The flute her father bought her 20 years ago is the same she uses today.
The third of four children, Siima was born in Swaziland to Godfrey and Sara Sabiti. Her childhood dream was to marry the late King of Pop Michael Jackson.
At age 9, Siima learnt to play the recorder, and later to read music before her father, now a retired diplomat with the UN, took her to music school in the UK, where she studied music as an extra subject.
Siima has lived in Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Malawi, the U.K and Nigeria. She cannot speak Runyankole, her native language, nor luganda. But she speaks French as fluently as she does English.
His judging personae
Swangz Avenue boss Benon Mugumbya, who also works as the production house’s executive producer, is the new kid on the block of Coca-Cola Rated Next Sing It.
Replacing last season’s Maurice Kirya, Benon has already hit the ground running, without exuding any newbie signs since the search started a month ago. If he has, it was only on Day One, where he came off as the laid-back judge, handling contestants with baby gloves. But after that, Judge Benon has since put on his producer cap and started analyzing contestants’ auditions like he is appraising a singer before taking him to studio.
“This competition is going to chew you up and spit you because your audition was so weak. So, it’s a no from me – yongeramu ku maanyi.” That is one of Benon’s lines, with the Luganda words for “put in more effort” becoming another going joke behind the scenes. Still, Benon is the trio’s nice guy but not quite.
Because he has his moments in the mean guy corner, delivering his dagger judgment with a smile. There is another behind-the-scenes joke that Benon’s “yes” comes from a kaveera somewhere far off under his seat, and that the kaveera is usually lost half the time.
Once in a while a fan of his music shows up and does the knuckles thing with him, telling him how they adore him. At such times he usually avoids hurting his fan by leaving the crucifying to Sharpe and Siima. Then he goes like: “Sorry, man. With Sharpe and Siima saying no, it will not mean a thing even if I say yes, but yongeramu ku maanyi.”
At a glance
The last born of four, Benon was born and raised in Ntinda by a single mother following the death of his father weeks before his birth. He attended Buddo Junior Primary, Ndejje S.S and Namasagali College for his O and A level respectively.
At Namasagali, Benon took advantage of the school’s love for the arts and started paying attention to music, not knowing it would be his career.
After A’ Level, he took up a course in computer maintenance and networking at Macmain School of Computing, a skill that aids him a great deal today in his music production work.