Songs, phlegm, a broken vase…

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BILLY SUTER talks to Durban singer and voice coach SAMANTHA LANDERS, who received rave reviews from judges when she sang Over the Rainbow at her recent blind audition on season two of The Voice South Africa. Recording star Karen Zoid was chosen by Samantha to be her mentor on the talent search series, auditions for which were filmed before Christmas. Samantha has still to learn if she has made it through to the live rounds, scheduled to start in May. Besides The Voice South Africa, Samantha is also part of fine new country vocal trio MitzyGeorge, alongside Tammy Saville and Mia Whitfield. They will stage a show of covers and new material at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre, 42 Cunningham Road, Umbilo, at 8pm on April 21 and 22.  They are also to perform at the Rhumbelow Theatre branch at Tina’s Hotel, 14 Beryldene Road, Kloof, at 2pm and 6.30pm on Sunday, April 23. For more information, and to book, phone Roland at 082 446 8636.
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HOW NERVOUS WERE YOU AUDITIONING WITH SO ICONIC A SONG AS ‘OVER THE RAINBOW’ – AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT SONG?

I can honestly say I have never been so nervous for any performance in my life! It wasn’t just the song and the fact that so many incredible vocalists have sung it successfully in the past, it was also the arrangement that I had chosen, and the pressure I felt as a vocal coach, to deliver a strong performance (which is so silly because I am, at the end of the day, just another singer with nerves!).

I spent the entire time before my audition with butterflies in my stomach, on a serious adrenalin high. By the time I walked off that stage, I could have collapsed from sheer exhaustion. But I chose that song because I love it. It’s a song I grew up listening to and even as an adult, I love listening to various renditions of it.

The judges were wonderful. It was surreal to be complimented by some of the biggest names in the South African music industry.

I went with the coach that turned first. I figured that if Karen Zoid could take such a risk in turning so quickly (for all she knew I could have completely messed things up from that moment on, and it would have been too late), I owed her the respect of taking the same risk on her.

HOW HAPPY ARE YOU TO BE PART OF KAREN ZOID’S MENTORSHIP TEAM – AND WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO BENEFIT FROM HER GUIDANCE AND THIS CONTEST?

I am ecstatic to be on team Karen! When she turned around, all I could see was her insanely blonde hair and beautiful skin. That’s why I couldn’t look at her. Under the stage lights she looked almost angelic – it was completely intimidating.

What I love about her is her openness and honesty. She is a strong woman and she trusts her gut. I really admire and respect that about her.

She is also genuinely kind and invested in her singers. As a vocal coach myself, that is something I need from a teacher – someone I truly believe has faith in me as a performer… and she showed me that with her ridiculously quick chair turn.

As far as the competition goes, I just wanted a challenge. I wanted to scare myself a little.

THE SHOW GOES LIVE IN MAY – IF YOU MAKE IT THAT FAR HOW MUCH WILL IT DISURPT YOUR DAILY LIFE?

If I make it that far in the competition, my work life will be disrupted quite a lot. I teach 43 private pupils a week and I am a full-time singing teacher. Luckily, a big portion of the live shows falls in the school holidays and the majority of my pupils are at school.

Everyone has been extremely supportive and they know the possibility of that happening. I think my personal life will be the most difficult one to juggle because I would need to be in Joburg for a while. Luckily, I have the most amazing husband and he is completely supportive of my career.

YOU RECENTLY POURED A LOT OF TIME AND EFFORT INTO LAUNCHING THE MITZYGEORGE SINGLE – TELL ME ABOUT THE SONG AND PLANS FOR THE VOCAL TRIO FEATURING YOU, TAMMY SAVILLE AND MIA WHITFIELD.

MitzyGeorge started as a heart project – in a show called Country Girls. It really began when three friends that love to sing, realised we sounded pretty good together.

After our first show at Durban’s Rhumbelow, we received so much love and had people telling us how much they enjoyed us and our sound, and we realised that the three of us had something special. So we did our homework and it turns out that all-female singing groups are pretty rare, even on an international scale.

We decided that we wanted to fill that gap in the market and MitzyGeorge was born. As a trio, we are, first and foremost, best friends. As vocal coaches (all three of us teach singing) we are fuelled by uplifting others and helping them to feel inspired and to find their own “voices”.

Our debut single, I Am Home, a song about love, is co-written by the three of us. Honestly, we just sat in my lounge one day and started messing around. But we wanted to write something that was true to us as a trio. Tammy played keys, Mia wrote the melody, and I wrote a lot of the lyrical content.

We launched our song in a little show at Musiekskuur, a beautiful and intimate theatre that forms part of the Barnyard Theatre in Pretoria. It was wonderful.

IF YOU SHOULD WIN ‘THE VOICE SOUTH AFRICA’ WILL MITZYGEORGE BE PUT ON HOLD?

I think that as wonderful as being the winner of The Voice South Africa sounds, it is also something that hasn’t happened! So it is something I am not worrying about. I entered the competition with the blessing of both my ‘Mitzy Girls’ and we will tackle that question if it happens. Until then, I’m living in the moment, and focusing on being the best performer in all elements of my singing that I can possibly be.

Samantha Landers performing Over the Rainbow at her blind audition.

TELL ME ABOUT THE UPCOMING MITZYGEORGE RHUMBELOW SHOWS – WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT?

We are so excited to be returning to The Rhumbelow Theatre in Durban, as well as making our debut at The Rhumbelow branch at Tina’s Hotel in Kloof. We cannot wait to share our music.

This show is completely different to the Country Girls show because we are not playing characters. It’s not a comedy show about three fictional characters on their journey to finding love. This is a real show, about three real women on their journeys to finding each other.

We will be performing as ourselves, taking our audience on a musical journey that tells the story of who inspired us as vocalists and how we became who we are today.

There is a lot of wonderful music dating back to vocalists like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and Carrie Underwood. But what I love most is the Mitzy spin on songs by Lady Gaga and Adele.

HAVE YOU ENTERED OTHER TALENT SHOWS ON TV – AND IF SO HOW DID YOU FARE?

I have not entered any other television talent show. I just felt like I didn’t have the mindset for it before. TV is not for sissies… and the thought of being ripped apart for South Africa to see, really made (and makes) me uncomfortable.

But then I turned 30. And I guess I decided… who cares? If not now, then when?  But I don’t recommend it if you aren’t 100% sure that you don’t define yourself on other people’s opinions.

WHO ARE YOUR SINGING IDOLS… AND WHAT SONG AND PARTNER WOULD YOU CHOOSE FOR A DREAM DUET?

I absolutely love Barbra Streisand, Christina Aguilera and the legendary Ella Fitzgerald, but if  I could sing with absolutely anybody, it would be Michael Buble. I love that he made swing popular again and I think we would do a mean little duet together. Plus, he only wears suits, which means I would wear a fabulous evening dress.

AT WHAT POINT DID YOU DEVELOP A TALENT AND LOVE FOR SINGING – AND WHAT FORMAL TRAINING DID YOU HAVE?

I did my first solo with my primary school choir when I was in Grade 2. And that was it. I loved it and all I wanted to do was perform. I’d force my siblings to be my backing singers and we would stand on our garage roof singing to people passing by in the streets. I began vocal coaching in Grade 8.

I went to Rhodes University after school and did my degree in Journalism and Media Studies. When I graduated, I took a year off and got back into singing. That’s when I began contemporary training with Charon Williams-Ros. Charon got me through my teachers’ training and she introduced me to live performance in Durban.

WHAT HAVE BEEN CAREER HIGHS TO DATE – AND WHEN AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BE A VOCAL COACH?

Career highlights would have to be performing in shows like Sing It Sist; travelling to Russia to perform at the Makhaya Art and Culture Development Conference; singing at the ICC at the Durban Business Fair in front of world-renowned life coach Iyanla Vanzan; travelling to Sweden to do master classes with  world-famous vocal coach to the stars, Seth Riggs; and creating our wonderful group MitzyGeorge.

I have to be honest, I didn’t really decide to be a vocal coach. I was on my gap year after university and doing some freelance design work here and there, when I was offered a teaching position at a music school in Hillcrest.

I had the time and I thought I would try it out. I realised I was pretty good at it. You don’t need to be a great singer to be a great vocal coach. You just need to have the ears and the heart. The ears I had, the heart I developed over time.

Being a coach means helping someone find and refine a gift that they are already born with. Unlike other instruments, singers either can, or they can’t. My job is to help them work through whatever it is that is holding them back.

WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?

Sincere. Happy. Passionate. Focused. Super-c hatty.

WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?

I am not as extroverted as I seem. I love popcorn. I cannot tolerate rudeness. I read (and love) horoscopes.. I am passionate about human rights and issues around equality.

YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?

I will never forget being in Grade 10 and singing at the Queensburgh Eisteddfod. I had been practising for weeks and on the day of the event my throat felt a little scratchy. But everyone said I was being a hypochondriac so I stopped complaining and sucked on a Hall’s throat sweet just before I went on.

I was singing You Must Love Me from Evita. As I hit the money note, all this phlegm decided to escape my mouth. I had two sounds coming out of my mouth – the big note, and the phlegmmy, off-key harmony.

It lasted for what seemed like forever. I had to stop mid-song (the first no-no of performing), cough it all up and start again. And it happened again. Same place. Same phrase. I was mortified!

Country trio MitzyGeorge… from left are Mia Whitfield, Tammy Saville and Samantha Landers.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?

A good friend of mine recently told me that I am extremely generous with my time for other people. And that I’m a good friend to others. That really made my heart swell with love and pride.

IF YOU COULD CHANGE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

I would make my legs longer and leaner. I would change my ears so they stick out less. Then, on a less superficial note, I would change being so hard on myself so often.

IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY FIVE THINGS FROM FIVE DIFFERENT PEOPLE, WHAT AND WHO WOULD THEY BE?

I would want my mom’s strength; my husband’s ability to make anybody feel important and loved; my sister’s ability to do her own thing in spite of everyone else’ Mitzy girl Mia’s eternal optimism and Mitzi girl Tammy’s carefree spirit.

WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?

I remember being quite young when my mom stepped outside for a bit, to hcaht to a friend. She had told me I wasn’t allowed to touch a really large, expensive vase that she loved. It had a face carved into the stone and my mom adored it. It was also very expensive.

While she was out, I picked it up and put it exactly where she had asked me not to. I wanted the space for something else (who knows what, after that?).

The vase fell face forward and the woman’s nose was knocked off.

I have never seen my mother more angry! Needless to say, I was so grounded.

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED – AND WHO GAVE IT?

Always try your best – that’s the most anybody can ever ask of you. If you fail but you gave it your all, forgive yourself and move on. My mom always told me that. They are words I try to live by every day.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY READING?

I love reading. I am currently obsessed with books about designing the life that you want to live. Among my favourite books are And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. But then again, I have read Tony Robbins’Awaken the Giant Within many times as well!

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE ULTIMATE IN KITSCH?

Crocs sandals. Even if you own your look, I don’t think they look good on anyone. Ever!


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