We can do more

For more than three decades the Richard Stoute Teen Talent Competition has been an important and impactful staple of Barbados’ annual entertainment calendar.

Indeed, Stoute is deserving of the highest praise for conceptualising the competition, tutoring and nurturing hundreds of young talents who have sought to make their way in the world through entertainment.

Not everyone who has entered the show has set his or her focus on entertainment as a long-term career, but the likes of Adrian Clarke, Alison Hinds, Omar McQuilkin, Edwin Yearwood and Rupert Rupee Clarke, demonstrate that Stoute’s nursery has served a major national purpose.

To his credit, Stoute has often contributed to the lives of these young people with negligible private and public sector sponsorship. A recent state investment in the programme was a welcomed fillip. But, this should have been a constant feature decades ago by any agency with the wherewithal to contribute to this area of nation-building.

But the question must be asked whether the teen talent show or concept has morphed into the type of national product it should be. Indeed, has the show outgrown its own creator and is it in need of fresh ideas and new progressive management to take it beyond what it has basically remained over the last 35 years?

The world of entertainment is a billion dollar global business and to remain static or marooned at any of the industry’s rungs negates one’s ability to tap into its wealth-generating prospects.

One of the criticisms that must be levelled at the Richard Stoute Teen Talent Competition is its blatant absence of originality and freshness. Barbados’ multi-millionaire superstar Robyn Rihanna Fenty would not be the wealthy icon that she is today singing Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits or Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust. And this is irrespective of whether being in the right place at the right time or not.

We acknowledge that the show is, or was, primarily an avenue for youngsters to perform — to sing. But 35 years is a long time to be mired in the same concept in a dynamic industry.

We believe that originality should be encouraged where youngsters are mandated to write and perform at least one original piece. In an ideal world, two originals would be preferred, but one at this juncture would suffice. This insistence on originality would not only help to hone the writing skills of the performers, but would open up creative opportunity for some young prospective arrangers.

This idea was brought to the fore in the competition some years ago but quickly shelved without allowing it to grow on the psyche of both the artistes and the audience. It was an opportunity lost by those who preferred the comfort and familiarity of copying.

We are subject to correction, but we have no recollection of a solitary original recording or album coming directly out of the Richard Stoute Teen Talent Competition. There has been none on our local radio, our music charts, moving feet at fetes and other social gatherings or being part of the musical interlude at sporting events. If there is at least one such original song or album out there after 35 years, we would be ecstatic to be wrong.

The idea that the popularity of the show would wane with a heavy diet of originals holds no sway. We note the decreasing numbers in attendance over the past two years even with “Mariah Carey”, “Celine Dion”, “Gregory Abbot” and “Luther Vandross” still performing at the show. The annual Pic-O-De-Crop competition provides real evidence that Barbadians are not averse to originality.

We are reminded, too, of David Prophet Clarke’s Revo-dub-o-lution, which was an exceedingly popular competition and promoted originality to the extent that both songs performed had to be originally penned, even if they were performed over existing rhythms. Acute lack of financial assistance, and perhaps the genre promoted, eventually led to this show’s sad demise.

After 35 years the Richard Stoute Teen Talent Competition should not be allowed to stagnate. Indeed, it must be perceived as a brand product that must outlive its creator. The vision, we dare say, could be for the concept to branch as far as a school of performing arts bearing the Stoute name and including not only singers, but embracing instrumentalists, dancers, stand-up comics, mimes, and the like, while still maintaining the core product on which it was founded.

A permanent home of some quality and comfort must be found for the show as the first step towards moving it out of the 1970s. An organisational structure should be put in place to ensure that 50 years hence the product is still an annual Barbadian staple when its founder has gone to his heavenly reward. There must be significant private and public sector input and the scope of the product must be widened, with originality at its foundation.

Stoute cannot continue to do it alone. And he must be willing not to want to do it alone.

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