She’s the youngest and tiniest of this year’s pack of Idols finalists – but the sound that comes out of this pint-sized powerhouse is anything but small.
Week after week Yanga Sobetwa belts out hits with a voice that belies both her age and her tiny stature and it’s little wonder her thousands of fans believe she has what it takes to be a star.
The 17-year-old made it to the top 16, then the top six and then the final three of South Africa’s most popular singing contest, proving her velvet-voiced versatility across a range of genres.
Yanga knows what she wants “and I’m not afraid to go after it”, she says, chatting to us in between costume fittings and rehearsals as Idols goes into crunch time in the run-up to the grand finale. “My mom is strict and wasn’t keen on the idea of me entering Idols at first,” the bubbly Grade 11 pupil says.
“But I was adamant I was going to enter and no one was going to stop me.”
Yanga is nothing if not determined. She organised with her school, Rhodes High School in Cape Town, that she would continue her studies long distance if she got the magical golden ticket at the auditions. And when she got a resounding “yes” from all four judges her mom, Linda (46), finally gave her child her blessing. She saw how serious her second-born was and decided to allow her to follow her dream.
Dad Ayanda (51) has been her number one fan from the start. “He’s so supportive,” she says. “He’s really rooting for me.”
THE competition hasn’t all been plain sailing though. Apart from the stiff competition she’s also had to contend with social media users saying she’s trying too hard to be like Paxton Fielies, last year’s Idols winner. “People do say funny things sometimes but I try not to pay attention to them. I respect Paxton and her journey, which is completely different to mine. Our voices and sounds are very different so there’s no point in engaging with the negativity.”
Each week Yanga slays on stage in a variety of glamorous outfits – a far cry from the shorts-loving tomboy she was growing up with sisters Nomasange (23) and Siyamthanda (15) in Delft, Cape Town.
“I was always doing crazy things like climbing trees and stuff,” she says, playing with her long pink nails. “I only started being girly a few months ago.”
She played every sport her school offered – even rugby, where she was the only girl on the team. She was also part of her school’s debate team and the choir and took part in school plays.
But through it all she knew she wanted to pursue a career in music. She would watch Idols religiously and has been inspired by several of the stars the competition has produced.
“Loyiso Gijana [Idols 2015] is definitely my favourite. Even my mother knew how much I loved his voice. He was also very young when he was on the show but he got so far and his voice – wow, man!
“In fact, I had a crush on him,” she adds, laughing. “But that was then.”
Gospel artist Ntokozo Mbambo is also on her list of favourites and she was “obsessed” with watching the artist’s live DVDs when she was younger. “I’d sit there and see how powerful her performances were. I’d even sing along with her and hit every note perfectly – that’s when I knew that this singing thing was definitely for me.
“I love it so much – being on stage and touching hearts is the biggest reward.”
Yanga is also a huge fan of Khaya Mthethwa, who won Idols in 2012, and is crazy about his album The Uprising.
“I love God, so when I see young people standing boldly and praising Him I get so excited.
“I also love jazz but not like the old jazz – new, young jazz. Like,” she quickly unlocks her phone and scrolls through her music, “Jazmine Sullivan, you know.”
YANGA has plans to study entertainment law as well as music after she’s finished school “so that I can fulfil my dreams of becoming a music lecturer”, she says. “I also want to own my own production company.”
She’s been away from her family for weeks now, living in the Idols house in Johannesburg with the rest of the finalists. So does she get homesick?
“Not at all. I’m not a clingy person so I’m doing just fine. I’m here to achieve my goals so I need to stay focused. And although I don’t talk to everyone back home every night, when we do talk I update them on what’s happening here and how I’m finding the whole experience.”
It’s been an interesting time, she adds, and each week she enjoys performing in front of large crowds more and more. But there’s one thing she doesn’t jump up and down about, and that’s all the dancing involved.
“I’m not a dancer – I don’t dance! But I mean, if it comes with everything I want, then let’s do it. I’m always open to learning, so it’s not so bad anymore.”
At the end of the day Yanga is a teenager just like any other and enjoys hanging out with her friends – not that she’s been able to do much of that lately, of course.
“But I still talk to them on WhatsApp a lot and they’re all so supportive. But I only talk to those who had my number from before all this happened on Idols. Not people who are like, ‘Oh, I go to school with her’, so now they want my number? No ways.”
Yanga would love to go all the way and be crowned SA’s newest Idol but if she doesn’t she won’t be too disappointed, she says, because she feels like she’s won already. “I mean, I’ve come this far and it’s a big accomplishment and I’m grateful for it. And if I don’t go all the way, I’ve already had so much exposure – it’s what I do with it now that counts.
“Some people who’ve done well in previous seasons are never heard of again. So it all depends on what I do with the platform I’m given. And if I do win, the first thing I’ll do is give 10% of the money to God. Because He got me this far.”