By Lolade Sowoolu and OpeOluwani Akintayo
There was nothing spectacular about her life before auditioning for Project Fame. She went in at the risk of losing one more year in her already delayed education. This Mass Communication hopeful turned household name, Chidinma Ekile, speaks in this interview of her tough upbringing, her staying power in the Project fame West Africa Season 3 competition, and on how life has changed for her. This 22-year- old tough, power house singer is the first female to win the competition.
What went wrong with your first appearance on Project Fame stage. Why did you have a faulty start?
It was stage fright simply because it was our first show. Again everybody around me had one form of musical experience or the other. Before I went up, I was shaking all over.
Tell me a little about growing up?
Growing up wasn’t so easy. I grew up in Ketu, Lagos. I have six siblings and I’m the last. We all sing. I didn’t have everything I wanted as a child but it was comfortable enough. Both parents are from Imo state. I had both primary and secondary education in Ketu. I was almost writing my Post_UME when I went for project fame. My intention was to continue my education when I came back from Project Fame.
What gave you such courage to abandon school for a talent hunt that you weren’t sure of your chances?
I didn’t have so much experience in music. I was just a church singer. I merely gave Project Fame a try.
So how practical has returning to academics been since winning?
Right now I want to get my album out before I get back to my studies. It shouldn’t take so long; I’m recording already.
Before Project Fame, did you have a dream to become a professional singer?
I thought singing would be a hobby; a second love to be done in my spare time. I never thought of it as a career really.
So why do you want to put out an album now. Is it part of your obligations for winning?
Not really. My mum said I started singing at six. Music is a part of me and being in the academy is one experience you won’t want to waste away. That’s why.
How did you hear about the competition?
A lot of people know I’ve always loved Project Fame. One of them brought the form to my house and I gave it a try.
Why did you take the gamble knowing it would mean one year delay for your academics?
I didn’t think I would go so far. I thought I should just get the experience and move on with my life.
Will you like to share part of the experience with us?
The Academy was fun; meeting people with different backgrounds. We learnt from the teachers even with the tough times-Mummy J, Uncle Ben, Kaffy… Miss Ige actually taught me a lot. She taught me how to control my voice. I have this very loud voice and I tried so much to tune it down.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in the house?
It was my voice.
When did you recognize your voice as a challenge bigger than your fellow contestants?
That was in the third week. After my first and second weeks in the house, I told myself that if I didn’t make it through the third week, maybe I wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place. So I kept working on my voice and stagecraft. I had no rest. I kept imagining myself on stage.
At what point did you begin to feel, ‘I can win this’?
There was no point like that. Eyo once asked me if I believed I could win but I told him ‘no’, I didn’t think so.
So who did you think was good enough to win? And who were those who intimidated you?
I was intimidated initially by every one of them but after the third week I began to think anybody could take the prize away.
Who were your strongest contenders?
Tolu and Yetunde. Everyone have their strong points. Kesse for instance could do any kind of sing and had good stage craft. Yetunde and Ochuko had stage presence.
What’s the mood like in the house on Fridays and what kind of prayers do you say in the mornings?
On Friday mornings, there’s always the fear of probation. I never thought I was too big or too small to go on probation. My prayer to my God was always, ‘let your will be done’.
You must have had time to reflect on your experience since winning the competition. Have you been able to identify what you did right that kept you off probation throughout?
I think it’s just the favour of God because I’m not better than any of them. It was just the favour of God. I am just a church singer from Ikorodu. Ikorodu is one village in Lagos. I went for the audition like every other person and God just took it from there.
Let’s talk about your size. Didn’t you feel intimidated while growing up and did you have nicknames?
I had a lot of names. People always talked about me. In class I was the smallest. They called me ‘small’ and so I was prepared for whatever came in the Academy. People always talk about my size.
I remember the day you performed Celine Dion’s ‘My heart will go on’. Nearly everyone went emotional except you. How do you manage your comportment? Was it a strategy?
That is just me.
Experience(s) must have toughened you. When was the turning point?
That’s how I grew up. My father is a disciplinarian. I went through a whole lot of hell.
Did he forbid you from crying or showing any form of emotions?
It’s only made me stronger.
So when you see people cry around you, you’re not moved?
Not that I’m not moved. It just doesn’t show on my face.
How do you express yourself when you are touched?
I write. I write out my pain.
When was the last time you cried?
I really don’t know.
What can make you cry?
I do not know.
Not even the death of a loved one?
Maybe that. But I’ve not lost anyone dear before so I can’t tell.
Are you in a relationship and do you get mushy over him?
No I’m not in a relationship.
What’s your idea of what a relationship should be like?
I really won’t want to say anything about that because I don’t know what to say.
So it’s not something you’re thinking about or looking forward to?
Music is all I’m thinking about right now. After music, I’ll move on to school and maybe after then.
How has your life changed since winning PFWA3?
I won N2.5million, a RAV4 jeep and a year contract. The cash is for school, music and family.
What was the reaction like in your neighbourhood when you got back home?
I didn’t know how people got to know I was coming. Maybe they saw the car that brought me in. People just kept coming into the house one by one till the house filled up. I’m a very reserved person so I didn’t understand where they were coming from. But now I have to respond to greetings in the neighbourhood.
Some of them said they voted; some said they prayed-we just thank them for everything.
How does the transformation feel from the-girl-next-door to a superstar everyone wants to identify with?
I just thank God for everything. I didn’t see it coming at all. I look at myself and wonder if it’s me. It happened just like that and I thank MTN and Ultima studios. When the studio got burnt, we actually thought that was the end of the show.
We thought we would all be asked to go back to our houses but they still decided to help these young people. That was so touching.
How did you handle Christian’s leave?
Christian is my friend. I thought he was going to be among the finalist. His leaving was so sudden. Christian is someone everybody loves. He made us laugh. He was the comedian of the house.
Does being the first female winner make you feel any differently?
Yes. That’s made me really happy. While the last six of us had a media tour before the finals, I was asked if I believed a girl could win this year and I was so positive. I didn’t want any of the guys to win. I always told the guys, ‘a girl is taking over this time’ _ either me or Yetunde. I was really expecting a girl to win and that makes me feel wonderful.
On the closing gala night, while you all performed the ‘winner’ song, did you see the grand prize coming to you?
Yetunde was the first person called and I was really happy for her. And then they called Eyo and Kesse. There were three of us left and I was in the middle of Ochuko and Tolu _ both great singers. At that point I felt, ‘anybody can take this’.
So you were surprised hearing your name?
I was so surprised. I was shocked.
But you didn’t act it. People even suspected you already knew.
People should just stop talking about that because that’s me.
Which professionals are you working with at present on your album?
I’m working with eLDee and Cobhams. They’re producing my songs. ‘Direction’, the song I wrote in the Academy will be included. Cobhams is working on it. My first singles should be out in December.
Are you likely to feature any of your house mates?
I’ll love to do that.
Chidinma Ekile is the last born of six siblings. Her parents both hail from Imo state but reside in Lagos. She was born in the late 80s and worked as a business promoter in Lagos before auditioning for Project Fame West Africa 3.
The Inspirational Soul singer started singing at the age of six and had a rough childhood growing up with a disciplinarian father. Her favourite artistes are Bob Marley, Lagbaja and Darey Art Alade and she looks forward to having a collaboration with Asa.
She enjoys singing and listening to the radio. She intends to study Mass Communication at a higher institution right after she drops her album. Petite Chidinma was only a church singer before taking part in the competition where she emerged first female winner in the show’s three years history.