Tuesday, August 31, 2010

IDOLS BACKSTAGE: An exclusive backstage pass to everything that really happens - and how it looks - behind the scenes of M-Net's Idols.

You're only seeing it here.

Only one journalist covering television in South Africa can take you behind the scenes of M-Net's Idols and not only tell you what happens there, but also how it looks - and that's me.

I got full access behind the scenes of the sixth season of Idols at the massive Mosaiek Theatre in Fairlands where the Sunday night Idols Spectaculars as well as the live Tuesday Results Shows are produced from by NeverMachine.

Not only were the Idols production minutes from going live, I was allowed backstage while the Idols contestants, Idols judges and Idols crew were milling about, all rushing about with last minute preparations. It's an extreme rarity. Allowing people - especially press - behind the scenes where a litany of production challenges are being shouted out and corrected, where nothing looks as polished as it does on the front side that's ''for television'' is far from usual broadcaster modus operandi.

And remember: broadcasters are very reluctant with behind the scenes access in general. They rarely allow a peek at how and where the magic of a TV production really happens. Viewers will never normally get to see this side of one of the biggest reality TV productions in South Africa - and I got very candid pictures. Now I can show you everything that happens on the other side of Idols.

Click on READ MORE below for my full behind the scenes walk through of M-Net's Idols.

Backstage access to M-Net's Idols is granted through this inconspicuous door that reveals the inner catacombs of the production area which is located on the sides, behind and below the Idols stage bathed in blue light that viewers see on Sundays and Tuesdays. ''Security is super tight,'' a person looking after security says to me. ''Nobody gets in if they don't have the right credentials. That's it. No card, no go.''

Immediately to the left of the Idols stage behind the scenes you will find the various special green rooms for guest artists like the band Ash from Ireland that performed live on Idols on Tuesday night.

Cameras, production equipment, monitors and other really expensive ''let's make TV'' equipment are everywhere. Wherever there's a flat surface, there's likely to be something placed on it. Space behind the scenes of a TV production often comes at a premium since the work space is ''not for show''. Idols is no different.

This area - the showbiz lightbulb mirror backdrop and B camera set-up is where Idols co-host Liezel van der Westhuizen sits right next to the Idols stage on the left. If you look closely, you can see the edge of the Idols stage peeking through the bottom of the right hand side of the black curtain. Very close.

This is where I catch the other Idols co-host ProVerb going over his lines. ProVerb has cue cards. I ask him why he uses cue cards if he has everything he's going to say on a teleprompter - while he improvises a lot anyway as well. ''No, I need to be sure. I need to just practice and make sure and keep going over it until the very last minute,'' ProVerb tells me.

This is how the very back of the massive Idols stage looks, if you look at it from the very back and to the side. The drum section of the Idols band is located right at the top of the backmost rigging under the star lights.

Down a flight of stairs, to the left of the Idols stage but below ground is (i.e. below the green rooms) you will find the hair and make-up rooms of Idols.

Hair and make-up is a hive of activity. It's literally minutes before showtime. That is Idols judge Mara Louw in the hair and make-up chair getting her last touch-ups.

Idols contestant Gail Nkoane is made as pretty as a picture by the make-up crew. In the back Idols co-host Liezel van der Westhuizen is a millisecond away from opening a bag of chips, polishing the pack minutes before the show is to go live on air. You'd just be able to spot Idols judge Randall Abrahams is in the middle in the back.

Again I run into Idols co-hosts ProVerb and Liezel van der Westhuizen. They're relaxed but focused, willing to pose for a quick photo, yet very aware that they're going to be on the air and part of a live broadcast within minutes. Still, they're the epitome of friendliness and silly banter. Silly gutter tabloids who write that Liezel van der Westhuizen don't eat are writing fictitious trash. I also stayed with her in the Big Brother Africa house last month. She eats. Carbos. Uhm, what's the number to vote for her again . . .? 00 maybe . . .

Right underneath the Idols stage is a whole other level of permanent stage production offices and rooms. If you look at where the drum section on the Idols stage is and could take an imaginary lift one two floors down, you will find yourself right inside this room where the stylists works their magic and the selected Truworths clothes for the various contestants are kept.

''They won't have your shoe size,'' a member of the Idols production staff jokes when I say I'm a size 12. Several shoe boxes line the one wall in the Idols change room.

Right below the middle and the front of the Idols stage underground you will find this area where I run into Graeme Watkins, one of the top contestants of the fifth Idols season last year and we share a quick chat. The area has been set up as a temporary refreshment and relaxing area where the crew also have their meals.

Idols co-hosts Liezel van der Westhuizen and ProVerb again. I tell them I want a photo of them ''with crew guy''. ''He is NOT JUST CREW GUY,'' the lovely Liezel van der Westhuizen admonishes. ''He is our sound guy.'' She did say his name but I can't remember.

The Idols stage from the back and the drum section up close.

The Idols stage from the front and the close left - a camera angle you will never see on television.

I also ran into my good (and funny!) friend Jason Greer from M-Net's Friday nights entertainment magazine show, All Access. Jason Greer and I are often at the same TV stuff, covering the same events. All Access is covering Idols weekly since both are M-Net shows and features interviews with the cast and crew. All Access will be filming at the Idols house where the top ten contestants are staying on Thursday - which I will be visiting tomorrow on Wednesday. He was like: ''Do I look at the camera? Do I look at you?'' My answer is obvious in the photo.

Idols Spectaculars, Sundays at 17:30
Idols Results Shows, Tuesdays at 19:00