Precisely December 6th last year Iyanya Mbbuk was crowned winner of the maiden edition of MTN Project Fame West Africa.
The singing talent reality hunt dominated local television stations in Nigeria in the last quarter of the year and was beamed across Cable stations in participating West African countries. The winner received a N2.5m cash prize, a brand new SUV plus a free video shoot.
Two weeks to his hand over, Iyanya tells us of his fatherâ€™s death two weeks before the competition began and how winning has changed his life and projected his singing career.
How prepared are you for a hand-over?
Iâ€™m prepared to hand-over. Itâ€™s a process Iâ€™ll just follow. I wonâ€™t like to say hand-over, Iâ€™d rather say Iâ€™m about to meet another me (his successor); watch MTN/Ultima crown another me. It canâ€™t even be a hand-over because I remain the first winner of MTN Project Fame West Africa.
And how would you describe your experience thus far…?
Its been challenging. Outside the academy is not as smooth as in there (in the academy). In the academy, you have just three judges and a couple of people watching you and then maybe the live audience. But out here, its you and the world. Its you against everybody. Its you against the market and against piracy.
I mean there are so many things to battle with so its really not been easy. Its extremely challenging.
Have you been able to achieve the things that you hoped to should you become winner?
Yes. I was looking at having good videos and also complete an album before the next winner (of Project Fame West Africa) emerges. I was looking forward to the name Inyanya becoming a brand in the market, you know, then hear people talk about me more than they used to. And so far I thank God for where I am right now.
I have a video on air that people love and I must say I am still working very hard on my brand.
Iâ€™ve shot two new videos in South Africa and they will be on air soon. Thereâ€™s one called â€˜Iyanyaâ€™, which is about my grass to grace story, and then thereâ€™s â€˜Wyse Upâ€™ because everybody wants to be on top. So far, my album is completed and mastered too.
All Iâ€™m trying to do right now is to promote the songs and the brand some more. If it was just about dropping an album, we could have done that months back since because the albumâ€™s been finished way back.
Also, Iâ€™ve been working with the best of producers and itâ€™s a dream come true working with people like OJB, ID Cabassa, TY Mix, WazBeat and K-Solo. Theyâ€™re a bunch of the biggest and very talented guys.
Does the album have a title yet and how many tracks are on the album?
Its titled DesIRE and it has thirteen tracks. DesIRE is an abbreviation for Destiny In Real Existence. The album should be released by the end of September. We just want people to hear the songs more on the radio before the full album drops.
How much difference did winning bring to your life?
Nothingâ€™s the same anymore. back the I was an ordinary guy but right now, thereâ€™s nowhere I go to that people donâ€™t know me even when I wear my face cap just to cover my face. Its really crazy. Iâ€™ve been to many states, met different people, wined and dined with the mighty just because of Project Fame.
I met Marlon Jackson just because of winning. Personally, working with most of these producers is a big dream come true for me. Because even about a year ago, these existed only in my dreams and I wondered if Iâ€™d ever see them talk less of working with them. And now, we are pals so I thank God for everything. All I miss right now is my private life where one can sneak in and sneak out of a buka and everywhere.
Did winning change your plans in any way?
About two weeks before I got into the academy, I lost my dad. I had just finished studying Business Management at University of Calabar (UniCal). The plan was to travel out of the country to do some short term courses and then probably work.
Thatâ€™s what my uncle wanted me to do. But before all of these, I had always had a strong urge for doing music. Itâ€™s the only thing that makes me truly happy. I tell you the truth, Iâ€™ve rehearsed these things in the bathroom.
Iâ€™d stand before the mirror and say â€˜Hey whatâ€™s up? Youâ€™re watching…â€™ I just always knew that thereâ€™s something about me and one day something big would happen. So when Project Fame came, I knew that was what Iâ€™d been rehearsing for all these years.
So how did you convince your family about participation since they wanted you to do something else?
I didnâ€™t have to convince them. I just told them I was going for the competition. Iâ€™m sure my uncle felt, â€˜Okay, just go, do your thing and come outâ€™. And when I was in the academy, they gave me massive support.
I came back and found out that during the competition, my uncle would give everybody in the house money to buy recharge cards, scratch, load and vote. So my familyâ€™s been supportive.
Whatâ€™s next after now?
I plan to get my Mastersâ€™ degree. Right now I donâ€™t want to jumble too much. I just want to do what I have to do which is to drop this album and see how things go. Iâ€™m still a very young guy and so far Godâ€™s blessed me beyond my expectation so I still believe that I have so much time to build my music career and also complete my education.
What extras did winning bring you?
Winning Project Fame gave me N2.5m, a recording deal and a SUV. But theyâ€™ve (sponsors) done more than that for me. Winning made me their baby. MTNâ€™s shot two of my videos. They shot â€˜Love trulyâ€™ and paid for one of my South Africa videos.
I paid for the other one so its more than the announced prizes. Thereâ€™s a whole lot theyâ€™re doing for me so its beyond the prize money.
Are you still in touch with you ex-housemates?
Of course. Praise is my home boy. Nii wants me in Ghana for his video shoot so Iâ€™ll be going to see him. Bisolaâ€™s here in Lagos. Annette Cookey, Benedicta, Sopriye, weâ€™re all family. Wilmot calls from Liberia. We still believe weâ€™ll all do something together one day.