Idols is probably the most successful locally produced reality show. And while it provides popular entertainment to its viewers, it is also one of the most powerful platforms available to any aspiring singer. Whether you agree with who ultimately wins the contest or not, it’s a show that creates heated debate about talent, leads to newspaper headlines and results in frenetic voting by the public.
The third series of Idols was undoubtedly one of the toughest seasons yet for the local version. The judges sliced the top 100 down to a top 70 due to a lack of talent, leaving us with a top 12 that really made it difficult to choose an outright winner. In third place we had the lively Nicky de Lange (who is now in a girl-group called NKD with fellow contestants Deirdre and Keisha) with Gift Gwe in 2nd place. While my heart and final vote did ultimately go to winner Karin Kortje (the underdog in the contest), my head and common sense was fully behind the lady who ultimately ended in fourth place: Veronique Lalouette.
Known to her fans simply as V, Veronique’s obvious natural talent and established musical background immediately put her two steps ahead of the other contestants. This didn’t necessarily help her chances of winning Idols, but was ultimately one thing that set her apart. V recently launched her debut album, As I Am, to a select group of friends, family, media and fans. Sporting a fabulous dark bob and wearing a gorgeous black frock by Kurt van der Muller, V blew the crowd away with her album showcase. Mambaonline was there and, after recovering from sheer amazement, caught up with the ever-so-humble Veronique to chat about her experience with Idols, her debut album and the road ahead.
The reason behind V’s entry into the Idols contest is by now a familiar one to many: she made a promise to herself that – had she not recorded an album by the end of 2004 – she would enter Idols and use it as a springboard for her career. As we know, V didn’t win, but managed to release her debut album independently before Karin’s reached the shelves. So who is the real Idol? “In a way, I’m happy I didn’t win Idols for that exact reason,” says V. “I knew I would’ve been completely helpless with regards to how and when my album would come out. But,” she adds in Karin’s defense, “she has no control over when SonyBMG releases her album at the end of the day.”
V and her father, highly regarded bassist Denny Lalouette, put their efforts into starting their own record label: GWYG Records. “It stands for ‘Go With Your Gut’,” V explains, “because that is how we’ve approached this whole project.” GWYG is also instituting an innovative new policy regarding V’s backup singers and studio musicians. “Currently in the industry, artists frequently use their studio tracks as backtracks for live performances because there isn’t always budget for a full band and back-up singers,” she explains. “But the singers and musicians typically don’t get any extra payment when their contribution is used again and again, even though the soloist makes loads of money selling CDs at the concerts. We plan to do it differently, and set up a fund made up of a small percentage of CDs sold at our live gigs and/or part of the gig fees. That money will be proportionately distributed to the musicians at the end of each year.”
Unfortunately, the fact remains that while releasing an album independently is often better in terms of creative freedom, it’s a considerable challenge to secure exposure and awareness without a major record company’s extensive marketing budget to back you up. “I’d be lying if I said that it’s been easy! Nor is it going to get any easier,” says V. “We’re doing what we can with the money we have, and when we get more money, we’ll do more. For now, it’s a bit of an uphill climb, but we’re taking it one day at a time,” she smiles. “I most certainly don’t regret a single thing! Even if the album doesn’t sell – which I HOPE won’t be the case – I’ve made an album that I can proudly call my own! To be able to say that… well, I wouldn’t trade that in for the world!”
“The whole ‘thing’ with Mara actually ended up serving me well…” – Veronique
Because Veronique’s father is such a well-known musician, she not only grew up in a musical household, but was surrounded by some of our country’s best-known artists and musicians. “It’s always weird getting up on stage to perform with the people that have basically seen me grow up right before their eyes,” V says. “But, having the father that I do, I am fully aware of how fortunate I am to be able to have access to the best musicians in the country… musicians that I can now proudly call my colleagues,” she beams.
It’s therefore no surprise that As I Am features some highly respected homegrown talent: “On drums we used Vinnie Henrico, Rob Watson and Neil Ettridge. Jean Oosthuizen – the legendary “Floors” – did most of the electric guitar, with Mauritz Lotz on acoustic, and of course dad Denny on bass,” she smiles. “Jaconel Vey and Wessel van Rensburg were on keyboard duty. We wanted to keep the sound as ‘live’ as possible,” Veronique continues. “We even had a full string quartet for about five of the tracks. I was always mindful of wanting to be able to perform these songs live and have them sound as close as possible to the CD.”
The album features 14 tracks; a radio-friendly collection of pop, rock, R&B and funk-influenced songs that should have popular appeal – if V can get them out to the public. The first single to be released to radio is the romantic ballad, Right Here With Me –one of the best tracks on the album. “It was written by J,” V tells. “I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it. It was originally meant for an Australian artist, but I begged him to let me put it on the album,” she adds. Another track that should do well for V is Free; a catchy, upbeat sing-along-song with a touch of reggae. “I hope everyone will be humming this non-stop in a couple of months,” exclaims V.
She roped in Idols runner-up, Gift Gwe, for I Must Still Love You, an up-tempo R&B duet written by R.J. Benjamin and Danny K. “I’ve always admired Gift from the very first time I heard him sing. I knew I wanted to have him on my album long before production started,” she says. Another one of the album’s outstanding ballads is Closure, which V wrote at the end of a previous relationship. “But we’re good friends now!” she jokes. Changing direction completely is the super-catchy Man Down. “I love rap and hip-hop, and I was lucky enough to lay down a rap line when American rapper Cee-Rock ‘The Fury’ was in the country recently,” V says about the song. The album ends off with another superb song – which is also instantly recognisable: Secret Places was used as a jingle in a well-known Purity TV commercial featuring a boy who dreams about growing up to become an astronaut. But I can guarantee you that when you hear Veronique doing this track live you’ll never ever again associate it with Purity!
I was impressed with V’s debut; As I Am could easily compete in the global market. “It’s always been a dream of mine to break into the international market,” V concedes. “What with the internet being such a great marketing tool, I’m hoping that someone, somewhere will hear it and believe in it enough to do something with it. This album is really just an outward expression of me, so I really do hope that there will be people all over the world, from all walks of life, that will be able to identify with it in some way,” she says.