Tastee blazes trail for talent since 1979
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Today, we continue to profile companies that have been nominated for the prestigious 2012 Gleaner Honour Award. Tastee Ltd has been nominated in the category entertainment.
Starting with Nadine Sutherland in 1979, the list of Tastee Talent Contest winners - in its original format up to 2006, then the Tastee Talent Trail from 2007 onwards with the reality show component introduced in 2010 - is impressive.
But what brings the magnitude of the 32-year-old contest home is the short list of those who did not win, communications and contest coordinator Howard McGowan pointing them out on a poster in the office from which the contest is run. Among them are deejays Vegas, Cobra and Papa San, singers Glacia Robinson and TOK and actress Claudette Pious. Add to that the second- and third-place entrants in 1979, Paul Blake (who would later be Bloodfire Posse's lead vocalist) and Winston 'King Yellowman' Foster.
Also among the winners are present C-Sharp Band lead vocalist Chevaughn Clayton, keyboard player and vocalist Christopher McDonald, the Kreative Boyz dancers and Henry Brown, who now works as a make-up artist in Hollywood, California.
The contest also has roots in the music industry, as McGowan said it "started in 1979 as the brainchild of (late bandleader) Sonny Bradshaw. He went to (Tastee owner) Vincent Chang with the idea to unearth talent".
McGowan points to the range of entrants as a defining characteristic of the Tastee Talent Trail. "What sets us apart - including the great Vere Johns (who ran the Opportunity Hour) - is we run the gamut. Dub poetry, singing, deejaying, dancing, comedy, magician, instrumentalists, drama," he said.
The competition was an "instant success" from its inception said McGowan, who is a former judge. In its early years, McGowan, a former Entertainment Editor at The Gleaner, and other journalists assessed the entrants Basil Walters (currently at The Observer), Courtney Sergeant and Don Topping also doing the honours. Winston Barnes was the MC for the live shows.
New judging approach
The judging approach changed with the format in 2007, Amina Blackwood-Meeks, Chantal Hylton-Tonnes, Michael Edwards and Audrey Reid doing the honours, then "when we went reality, we went for controversy". Those bringing that element were sports journalist Oral Tracey and radio disc jock Amelia 'Milk' Sewell.
Plus, singing talent that has been tried and proven before the highly critical Jamaican audience was included in the judging. "Last year, we included Alaine, because we wanted a voice from the industry. One of the feedback we got was we did not have a singer. It went over well, so for 2013 we will see how it goes," he said.
Throughout these changes, Tastee's support for the talent contest has been unwaivering. The renowned fast food company, with its signature patty, was the sole funder until Pepsi came on board in 2007.
And, McGowan said, there has never been an attempt to link the company's food products with its entertainment pursuits. "It is Mr Chang's way of giving back to society and supporting talent," he said. However, there are now thoughts of doing a special for a preferred combination meal on the day of auditions.
This is in addition to feeding the entrants who receive a ticket to go to the judges' tent, passing the first stage of the audition. There are many people to feed, as some 2,500 Tastee Talent hopefuls turn out each year across the island, 700 to 800 of these homing in on Cross Roads, St Andrew. Auditions are also held in Montego Bay, Mandeville, May Pen, Savanna-la-Mar, Ocho Rios, Portmore and Morant Bay.
McGowan underscores the development aspect of the contest, as the top entrants are groomed while they progress through the rounds. This takes place over five weeks, with training in diction and enunciation, stage apparel selection and a band rehearsal.
Tastee's talent forays have been recognised, the competition named in the top 50 Jamaican entertainment events in the country's first 50 years of Independence. Plus, McGowan said, "I don't think you can name 25 top persons from any genre and not name a Tastee performer."
He has a number of indelible memories from his years of association with the competition. There is "a young Nadine Sutherland winning at 11 years old". Then there is another first - "the first year we went reality and took it to Braco, seeing their response in a five-star facility was priceless".
One of the memories is not a single moment, but Tastee's sustained commitment to the contest over three decades. Now in its second generation of Changs, Lisa and Robert Chang are the executive producers, with Abe Barracat being the production manager.
While there is a lot of focus on the December finals, McGowan pointed out that the competition is close to being a year-round event. So just into the new year, preparations are on for the 2013 season, at the end of which another champion will be crowned in the contest that Sonny Bradshaw conceived and Tastee has parented.
And in a 2004 Gleaner interview, the first winner, Nadine Sutherland, spoke about the competition and its impact on her:
"Tastee is an institution. I think it has done a lot. It is just one of the biggest instruments of launching major acts. I think the Tastee corporation should be given an OD by the Jamaican Government for what they have done in nurturing new talents. It brings to Jamaica talent like myself, talent like Beenie Man, like Yellowman, like Paul Blake. I hear Vegas, and the list goes on. I heard Diana Rutherford, who came third in Rising Stars; she was a Tastee's winner."
"Actually, I thought I was the youngest when I won at 11; I think Diana Rutherford won when she was nine. So I mean look at what they have done for Jamaica's talent, yu nuh? They have given them this exposure that a person like me would never ever dream of, yu nuh? My life would be changed and was changed into something better, and I think everybody else can agree with me on that, speak for that."
'What sets us apart - including the great Vere Johns (who ran the Opportunity Hour) - is we run the gamut. Dub poetry, singing, deejaying, dancing, comedy, magician, instrumentalists, drama.'
'Tastee is an institution. I think it has done a lot. It is just one of the biggest instruments of launching major acts. I think the Tastee corporation should be given an OD by the Jamaican Government for what they have done in nurturing new talents. It brings to Jamaica talent like myself, talent like Beenie Man, like Yellowman, like Paul Blake. I hear Vegas, and the list goes on. I heard Diana Rutherford, who came third in Rising Stars; she was a Tastee's winner.'