Idols SA S16 is happening! Find out how

Idols SA S16 had to think outside the box to bring us the 2020 season despite the global pandemic

Every year, Idols SA gives us a chance to dream. We get to see talented people from around the country taking their shot and showing us what they’ve got. We get to celebrate beauty, artistry and music. Above all, it’s a show about hope. 2020 has done its utmost to silence our voices and snuff out all our hopes and dreams. But behind the scenes, the Idols SA team has been hard at work ever since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown to make their sweet-16 season happen despite everything they’ve been going through. And now that it’s finally here, we asked series director and executive producer Gavin Wratten how they’re pulling off their musical miracle…

In tune with 2020

Up until which episodes did production have in the bag before lockdown happened on 26 March?

Gavin: The S16 production was in full swing when the lockdown restrictions were put in place. However, as we do not shoot the series in an obvious sequence, all the mass audition crowds had been filmed before lockdown. This means that the first few episodes have some scenes that were filmed before lockdown and some scenes that were shot with social distancing protocols in place. As Idols is a reality show, all that this meant is that we changed the way we told the story, with social distancing becoming part of the narrative. So the group round at Theatre Week will be like nothing you have ever seen before.

What were you doing and discussing during the total lockdown period (level 1) to prepare for reopening?

Gavin: With the guidance of the Idols medical team, we started introducing and planning for multiple scenarios. No one knew what the conditions would be like after lockdown, so we had to come up with many contingency plans. Needless to say, though, we followed government’s safety protocols very carefully.

(For viewers interested, the link above will take you to the SA government’s official 36-page workbook of COVID-19 safety protocols for the film industry. This includes the use of masks and sanitiser, the daily disinfection of the set, cleaning all props before returning to storage, serving pre-packed meals at craft services, and maintaining social distancing of 1,5 metres)

What do you do on the set every day to keep everyone safe?

Gavin: On set we followed government safety protocols and created as many bio-bubbles (in this model, set groups of people work and interact together, and not with other people outside the group so as to avoid transmission. If one person contracts COVID-19, everyone in the bubble then self-isolates) as possible to ensure crew and contestants did not interact unnecessarily.

How is that impacting wardrobe, hair and make-up and stylists?

Gavin: Again bio-bubbles, safety masks and screens have been introduced on set to ensure full safety for crew and contestants.

How are transport and accommodation issues affecting your access to guest artists and musicians?

Gavin: We have upped the amount of transport supplied so that we limit people in transport to the bare minimum.

When you looked at how Idols in the US was handling recording, what was clearly not going to work here, because they sent each contestant recording equipment, routers and new model phones and so forth?

Gavin: The biggest concern for us was that performing from home would not be an even playing field because the contestants in Mzansi come from such different socioeconomic backgrounds. This is the main reason we realised that the American option would not work for us.

Have you had any input from the Idols franchise?

Gavin: Yes, we have been in discussion with Fremantle, the rights holders, and have been sharing ideas. The uncertainty of where we will be with each passing month means that we have lots of contingency plans in place, but we can only decide which will be appropriate closer to when the live shows start.

How will the judges’ table and the set look different?

Gavin: Halfway through the audition tour, we introduced screens between the judges to enforce social distancing. We also placed the golden tickets on a plinth so that there was no physical interaction between judges and contestants. All contestants and crew were also screened on a daily basis.

How has lockdown impacted your access to the contestants?

Gavin: We have resorted to do briefings, from crew, to contestants, via Whatsapp or Zoom so that when they are on set, the only thing they need to do is sing.

Did you have to send the contestants home or have to arrange accommodation/transport?

Gavin: While in our care, we have accommodated them in accredited hotels.

How is that working differently to how it normally does?

Gavin: We have only been able to use hotels that have been given permission to operate in the lockdown levels we were filming in.

Have any of the contestants not been able to continue because of pandemic issues?

Gavin: Only one contestant was not allowed to audition due to pandemic issues. Thankfully everyone else auditioned safely.

How does it feel not to have a studio audience?

Gavin: The live shows only begin on the 20th September, so depending on what government regulations are in place at that time, we will amend our plans accordingly.



Judge Somizi struts through the crowd during the pre-COVID-19 Audition phase.



After COVID, there are screens between the judges and they’re sitting a little further apart than usual.


Even the judges’ new photoshoots reflect social distancing as Somizi rocks the mask!

Watch Idols SA S16 on Sundays on Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) at 17:30 or on Catch Up

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