Our meeting that morning was not in any way unnerving. I arrived the venue of our interview earlier than the super star himself, Uti Nwanchukwu. It will not be wrong to label him a super star. I have witnessed and followed Uti’s rise to fame. From emerging the winner of 2010 ‘Big Brother Africa 5: All Star’ to presenting ‘Jara’ on DSTV with comedienne, Helen Paul, Uti’s charisma and humility have endeared him to many people. It is this charisma and being on top of his game, he will later tell me during the interview, that landed him the big job of hosting the on-going ‘Star the Winner Is’.
“I am sorry I am late,” he says as he walks in holding a steaming cup of tea, his voice husky. “I hope I will be able to talk with this bad voice I have now. Never mind, it should clear before we start.” He picks a mentholated sweet from the table; he unwraps it and throws it into his mouth.
Uti’s journey into the world of ‘Star the Winner Is’ was remarkable. He had received a mail to audition to host a show with a link to what is expected of prospective applicants. He didn’t take it serious until he got a call from someone he knew at M-Net who told him to give it a shot. He was turn between attending a wedding in London and going for the audition. He had given his cousin who was getting married his word to be at the wedding at all cost. He had almost booked his ticket when he got a call from someone who also told him about the audition. “This must be serious, I said to myself,” says Uti. Eventually, he went for the audition. To his surprise, other well known faces where there. “They were big names in the industry. I told myself I won’t go far with the audition.” But Uti was wrong. He has what other big names do not have, a charm that is infectious and totally different.
Now, Uti has become a master at his craft and a face that every household looks forward to whenever ‘Star the Winner Is’ airs on TV. He has brought dynamism into his style of hosting the show. His use of both British English and pidgin is seamless giving the show a new appeal. He has coined many slogans which he is using to put the contestants on edge or encourage them to make the right choice.
“I have said before on the show that: ‘half bread is better than puff-puff. I brought the slogan to the game because ordinarily Nigerians like slogans, they like funny quotes. I am not going to take credit for all the quotes. I have about 12 or 13 quotes on the show. I took four or six from the internet, but a lot of these quotes are original. Some of them are: ‘it is better to come outside with an okirika trouser than a designer pants’; ‘it is better to be a small fish in river Niger than to be a big dog in Calabar’, that was also me. ‘Half bread is better than puff-puff,’ is a popular saying in Nigeria, with every episode there is a quote. I just had to bring that edge. It is not a show that is too serious. What the producers from Holland told me is that they want it to be a bit loose, I know Nigerians, we are very happy people. I just want the viewers to be relaxed. If it is too serious we might lose the viewers’ attention. We want it to be very Nigerian. We want Nigerians to make it their own.”
To make the show more appealing, Uti tells me he imagines himself as the owner of the stage who has a lot of money to give away. “I told myself make it your own. Part of what I think is I own this stage, this are my friends and I have money to give away. So when I thought of it and imagined how I would play it that is, these are my friends and I am giving my friends money. However, by episode four, I have already become part of the game. It made me so comfortable such that we are all working together, the production team and the director. The show is a blast. It is the most professional job I have ever done.”
Uti still hosts ‘Jara’, but ‘Star the Winner Is’ he says ‘is a huge one’. “I can’t remember the last time I felt so high with myself working, every time I leave that stage. I used to watch entertainment news and I would watch Beyonce and Michael Jackson. When I used to see them talk and I would be like these people are something else. Then I didn’t get it but now I totally get it, because before I leave the stage I am thinking why are you on stage? But when on stage, it is like another spirit just takes over and I enter presenter mode and my voice doesn’t change.”
On ‘Star the Winner Is’, the stakes are really high but the dynamics of the game is so cool. If a contestant is true to himself he will walk away with something. It is not a game where the winner takes all, but this one at every duel there is a N100,000 prize in the first round; N200,000 prize in the second round, a N400,000 prize in the semi final. “And then again you have N500,000, N750,000, and N1,000,000; for the final round N2, 000,000. It is like walking into a party and knowing that you are fine, if you look at another boy and girl and the person fine pass you and somebody comes and says the finest person here wins this money, you will respect yourself say I know I fine o reach this person so make I go jeje go collect this round two price.”
‘Star the Winner Is’ Uti explains is a reality show where singing just seven songs can win one person N10 million and a brand new car. “What happens is that contestants are grouped in pairs and two contestants to two minutes to duel with each other. At the end of every duel, only one contestant will go to the next round. For round one, we have three contestants and the winner for each duel will compete against each other contestant. Contestant with the highest score at the end of round one is fast tracked to the final round which is round three, while the remaining two winners from round one would compete against each other. The winner with the highest score (which is the fast track winner) then the winner of this stage are taken to the semi final round. The winner from this stage will now go to the final round where there are 10 episodes and 10 finalists where the winner will emerge.”
While our interview lasted, Uti is not pretentious about how much the show has changed his life. “When I watch it, it feels like I have become someone else. Every time I see it, I am like it is just God. Every time I say “Show Me the Money” on the show, it feels like I am bringing the money down from heaven and that is my favourite line. The game is just so exciting; sometimes I forget the game is a serious business. I just see myself having fun. I love the fact that Star is changing people’s lives.”