We’re gearing up for the Top 6 reveal this Sunday, but not nearly as much as the Idols SA contestants, themselves. This Sunday promises to be a whopper of a show, with each of the contestants performing two – count ‘em – two songs for the judges on the panel and us at home.
As always, there is a theme – in this case, two themes. Each of the contestants will be performing a song from each of two playlists provided by established musical legends. The first is none other than Max Martin, the Swedish record producer and songwriter behind massive hits from some of the world’s best-known artists like Adele, Jennifer Lopez, Adam Lambert and so, so many more.
Each of the seven remaining finalists have picked a song from Martin’s songbook – a list of tracks he has had some hand in creating – and will be performing that alongside their other pick for the night… but more on that, later. Right now, let’s run through the selection from Max Martin’s Songbook:
Berry: “Dark Horse” – Katy Perry
An amalgam of several genres, “Dark Horse” fuses the stylings of electropop, hip-hop and trap, with Perry’s vocals – and the featuring verse supplied by rapper, Juicy J. – holding the centre amidst an understated production. Perry’s vocals on the track have been described as “seductive” and “mature”, meaning that Berry’s big voice should find something to play with, here.
Daylin: “Pillowtalk” – Zayn
“Pillowtalk” is the first single released by Zayn after his departure from One Direction, and it was quite a start to his fledgling solo career, debuting at number one on both the US Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart. Described as “an R&B slow jam”, the track features heavy beats offset by smooth production, and is a perfect showcase for Zayn’s vocal range, which is most comfortable in the tenor range – just like Daylin’s.
Karabo: “Perfect” – Pink
“Perfect” – as it known on the family-appropriate “clean” version, at least – is a return to the era of power ballads, though it deals with issues a little deeper than the usual love song, specifically matters of depression. Like most ballads, it requires the singer to have good control over a substantial vocal range, which Pink most certainly has. After her most recent performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, it seems that Karabo should be able to navigate her way in the space.
Kevin: “It’s My Life” – Bon Jovi
Arguably the band best-known for the power ballad, Bon Jovi did something a little different with “It’s My Life”, and it paid off. Released in 2000, the rock anthem has been the only one of the band’s singles to achieve the heights of their earlier repertoire, and it succeeded in awakening a younger generation to the band’s abilities. Being an anthem, the track requires the singer to deliver massive vocals during the chorus; Kevin has consistently shown that he can adapt to the requirements of his song choices, or – just as importantly – adapt a song to his style. We’ll have to see which path he chooses to take, here.
Nqobie: “Please Don’t Leave Me” – Pink
Pink makes a second entry into the evening’s set, testament to the long-standing working relationship between the singer and Max Martin. Right up Nqobie’s alley, the song is a mid-tempo exploration of a love-hate relationship and was accompanied by a critically acclaimed video that many thought was a rare example of a whole package being more than the sum of the parts. The track spent a decent time on numerous charts around the world and climbed its way to Number 1 on most of them – Nqobie will be hoping she will do the same, this Sunday.
S’22Kile: “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” – Adele
No surprises, here – this is a track by Adele, so it’s about an ex-boyfriend. She’s made the theme her niche, after all. Notable about this, however, is the fact that it is more uptempo than some of her previous offerings, and generally sung from a positive perspective. Anybody would find this a challenge, as Adele has one of the biggest voices ever to be paired with such exquisite timbre – we don’t fancy being in S’22Kile’s shoes, but then we’re not S’22Kile.
Sia Mzizi: “How Do You Sleep?” – Sam Smith
One of the youngest songs to appear on this list, “How Do You Sleep” was released as recently as 2019, but is notable for achieving success on charts in places as far-flung as Lebanon, Canada and Australia, achieving Platinum status in nine separate territories. Smith’s vocal style is built around his range, and his control of that range. Able to “soar from baritone to tenor for dramatic effect”, his songs make heavy use of these kinds of shifts, meaning that Sia has a real opportunity to show off his abilities.
That wraps it up for Max Martin’s contribution to the evening’s entertainment, but the show is far from done. Another record producer has offered up tracks for this weekend’s performances, and this one comes from a little closer to home. Very close, in fact, because it’s none other than the don of the local record label, Kalawa Jazmee – Oskido!
The man needs no introduction, but the conventions of writing dictate that we provide you with one, anyway: a veteran of the South African music industry, Oskido has been working for more than 30 years, producing tracks of his own as well as those of some legendary local acts like Mafikizolo, Bongo Maffin, Dr Malinga… again, the list goes on. He has also played a central role in developing the careers of former Idols SA contestants, which means his partnership with the production runs deep. Like Martin, Oskido has provided a playlist for the evening, and these are the items that have been selected by the night’s hopefuls:
Berry: “Power” – Amanda Black
A single from the album of the same name, “Power” is a perfect showcase for Black’s powerful – yet perfectly controlled – vocal abilities. A former Top 7 Idols SA contestant herself, Black’s relatively short career has earned her numerous accolades and awards, and “Power” shows us why, propelling its album to win the coveted spot of “Best Album of the Year” at the South African Afro Music Awards.
Daylin: “Something Inside So Strong” – Lira
Lira’s pedigree with this single stretches back to Madiba’s 92nd birthday celebration, where she performed this favourite of his – the anti-apartheid offering originally by Labi Siffre – alongside the Soweto Spiritual Singers, walking away as one of the most memorable acts of the evening. It stands as a perfect example of Lira’s smooth voice in action, because the instrumental arrangement does a good job of staying out of the way.
Karabo: “Ngeke Balunge” – Mafikizolo
Mafikizolo are a duo of comebacks – having started in the 90s, they went through a brief hiatus at the end of this century’s first decade, then returned to massive acclaim, then went quiet for some time, and have recently announced a return to the stage. There’s a reason they can afford to do this – walk away when many would be too fearful to risk losing their momentum – they’re good. Their musical offerings are always more than enough to rekindle any small amount of attention that may have been lost.
Kevin: “Ubomi Abumanga” – Sun-El Musician ft. Msaki
A sublime addition to AEDM (African Electronic Dance Music), “Ubomi Abumanga” features a subtle, melodic underscore that leaves more than enough space for the pleasing, satisfying vocals offered by Msaki. This is no club banger, but rather a tune one plays when the music is more important than the party, when simply relaxing into the chords is the aim of the day. Judging by his excellent performance of vocals originally sung by Nakhane Toure, Kevin should have no difficulty translating this woman’s vocal style into his own.
Nqobie: “Feelings” – Zonke
Randall has compared Nqobie to Sade on numerous occasions, which is no mean compliment. Given this, we suspect that covering Zonke’s “Feelings” should be right up her alley, since the combination of African drums and beats paired with jazz is well within her musical wheelhouse. Nothing more to say, except, “we’ll definitely be listening.”
S’22Kile: “Ntyilo Ntyilo” – Rethabile Khumalo ft. Master KG
S’22Kile has repeatedly shown her willingness to go uptempo, and “Ntyilo Ntyilo” gives her yet another opportunity to do just that, but it’s not going to be all downhill – the production is simple but demands attention to the details of rhythm and key. Khumalo’s vocals are a perfect fit to the underscore as provided by Master KG, and S’22Kile will need to work hard to meet the bar.
Sia Mzizi: “Emakhaya” – Mlindo The Vocalist
Not surprisingly, considering the artist’s stage name takes care to include, “The Vocalist”, this song demands more than the average singing chops. The instrumental production – capable as it is – is almost an afterthought, the great majority of the heavy lifting being handled by the muscularity of Mlindo’s vocals. It requires the ability to hold notes for a long time, the musicality to slip between chords effortlessly and the technicality needed to deliver fast, crisp vocals from time to time. If done well, Sia Mzizi is likely to earn himself more than just a few pats on the back.
There you have it – fourteen songs chosen for this Sunday’s performance. Of course, you’ll only get to hear twelve of these, as one of the contestants will not have secured enough of your votes to earn themselves a place in the Top 6. It’s a pity – ever one of these tracks could elevate the contestants to a whole new level in the audience’s estimation.
Season 17 of Idols SA broadcasts on Sundays at 17:00 on Mzansi Magic, channel 161. Get exclusive updates and a behind the scenes look at all the action right here on our site. Don't forget to join the conversation by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #IdolsSA. Catch up on Idols on DStv.