Was Jesus Black? – Searching for The Perfect Jesus Christ Superstar

Ooh was that title provocative enough?  Has it led to people thinking that I am going to go off on a political or religious rant?

Sorry to disappoint you but I am talking about the world of reality TV and musical theatre to be specific.  The new singing competition of the moment is called Superstar.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is reviving the very first musical that he created way back in 1968. It was presented on Broadway in 1971 and has been made into a film too. This year the production is going on a nationwide arena tour and is being billed as the next big rock musical.  The rest of the cast has been confirmed and they are looking for someone to play the leading role of Jesus.

The Meaning behind the Post Title

Was Jesus black?  This is a geniue question that people all over the world are still arguing over. If you are very religious then the answer will be of great significance to you.  Here I am referencing the way in which television and theatre have chosen to portray this character.

In Superstar there are 11 finalists in the competition and although Roger Wright (pictured above), is a fantastic singer and has made it to the final 11, he will not have a hope of playing the role because he is black. (This is my personal opinion.)

For certain shows, people have an idea of what a character should look like and most theatre producers will do little to rock that boat because they are in the business of making money. They will want to do everything in their power to give the ticket buying public exactly what they want.

This does not necessary apply to brand new shows or contemporary productions but a traditional show with a solid back history will nearly always revert to type because it is all to do with the bottom line.

Who is Roger Wright?

He is a seasoned musical theatre performer and was the first person to play the lead role of Simba in Disney’s The Lion King in London’s West End production.  He is pictured with his leading lady Paulette Ivory.

Before that he was in a singing group with his brother.  At 41 years of age, his is the oldest person in the show.

The Ultimate Aims of TV Singing Competitions

Singing competition shows have to serve two masters. It is first and foremost an entertainment programme and has to be of interest to the masses.  The secondary aim is for the show to actually find a winner who will claim their prize, which can be a cash prize, a recording contract or a starring role in a musical theatre production.

It is important that these entertainment programmes appeal to a wide audience, especially on TV channels that depend on advertising revenue. This is done by trying to ensure that the final contestants represent different members of the television watching public. So you will get a mixture of people of different creeds, class, body shape and singing ability.

This keeps the viewing public happy and helps to make us feel that maybe we could have a chance of appearing and even winning a TV competition show for ourselves.

These shows are always telling us that we, the public, have the power to choose the winner by picking up the phone or by texting our choice. They do this so that people will stay engaged and get their phone out to vote. The voting aspect is also nice money making bonus for the TV companies. Year after year, the cost of a vote seems to increase bit by bit.

Does The Public Really Choose The Winner?

These television programmes keep telling us that the public makes the choice for the ultimate winner but I believe that these shows use certain ploys to steer us in the right direction. Have you ever noticed that the song choices that are given to some contestants either show off their strengths or completely work against their natural talents and make them sound terrible?  Coincidence or what?

It makes me laugh when Andrew Lloyd Webber keeps saying that this singing show is not a popularity contest and that people should vote for the person who will do the best job.

But of course this is a popularity competition.  Someone could be the best singer in the world but if the public perceive them to be too arrogant, then they will not get the votes. Alternatively if someone has an OK singing voice but has a lovely personality or some sort of vulnerability, they are more likely to gain the public’s sympathy and support.

Popularity over Ability – A Winner Who Broke the Mould

A perfect example of popularity over talent occurred in the 2008 BBC singing competition I’d Do Anything.  This show was looking for a woman to play the role of Nancy in the West End revival of Oliver the Musical.

The ultimate winner was a woman called Jodie Prenger, pictured above.  She had a nice enough voice but she wasn’t the best of the group. She was one of the older contestants and she was the largest singer too. I feel terrible saying that because she was of average size but standing next to the other girls, she looked larger than life.

Anyway she stood out because of her fantastic personality and her sense of humour. It was clear to see that she was not what Andrew Lloyd Webber had envisioned in the role of Nancy and she didn’t get the best of feedback from the judging panel.

She eventually triumphed due to the public votes and became known as the People’s Nancy.  She ended up extending her contract to play the role of Nancy in the West End and has gone on to appear in other theatre shows and television programmes.

My Inappropriate Profiling of the Superstar Contestants

As I mentioned before, a television singing competition has to appeal to the masses. I have come up with my own, tongue in cheek, interpretation of what categories some of these guys represent:

  • Baby Jesus – the youngest at 21 years.
  • Black Jesus
  • Holiday Camp Jesus – they mention working as a holiday entertainer as if it is a bad thing. It’s not!
  • Asian Jesus
  • Rock Star Jesus
  • Cuddly Jesus -there is nothing wrong with a little extra padding

I couldn’t think of an appropriate (is should that read inappropriate?) heading for the rest of the contestants.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the non-descript guys makes it as the eventual winner.

The Embarrassing Hook Used To Say Farewell To The Eliminated Contestant

Every television competition show has a short sentence that is used to say farewell to the contestant who is voted off.

On I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of Here, Ant & Dec say

“You’re a Celebrity, get yourself out of here”

On The Apprentice, Lord Alan Sugar or Donald Trump says

“You’re fired”

On Project Runway, Heidi Klum says

“Auf Widersehen” (Goodbye in German)

Well, the embarrassing sentence that Superstar’s presenter Amanda Holden has to utter to the loser is

“It is time for you to walk into the light”!

The guy then walks towards an exit that is streaming with white light.

Hilariousl! I am practically cringing for the presenter.  She has to utter this ridiculous line for each and every eliminated contestant without laughing in their face. Oh I love camp TV.

Who I Want To Win

At the moment, my favourite is Rock Star Jesus, otherwise known as Nathan James.

It is true that he has the stereotypical look of a musical theatre Jesus but he does seem to have a lovely personality too.  And he gets on with his mum.  Ahh.

Beyond The TV Show – Everyone Can Be a Winner

There can be only one guy who takes the Jesus crown (I know, a rather unfortunate turn of phrase), but this is the perfect platform for the other guys.  If they are savvy enough, they will be able to leverage this television exposure and land other singing or acting related jobs on TV or in the theatre.

In closing I would just like to say – Roger, I love ya but between me and you, we know the score right?  I hope that this is a profitable platform for you and I look forward to seeing you singing or acting in something real soon.  I may be completely wrong and we will indeed see Jesus Christ rocking an afro! Time will tell.

Good luck to all the guys.

Have Your Say: Are you watching the reality show Superstar? What do you think about the contestants? Do you think a black, asian or cuddly Jesus would still draw a profit making audience? Leave a comment to let me know.


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