It appears that there will be more than just 7 groups of divas competing for the ultimate prize in the ‘Icons: Divas Edition’ reality TV show. The producers of the show have announced the judges for the competition, and in keeping up with the theme for the show, they selected two of Africa’s hottest divas who know just what it takes to make it on the international stage – a dream that is inherent in the objectives behind the show.
The foxy gospel/pop singer Gena West will team up with the ‘Diana Ross-meets-Janet Jackson’ sexy songstress, Stephanie Benson to provide insight into what may be required of the competing girl groups to succeed as female artists. They will be joined by the only male judge, Nana Nyarko Ackah-Yensu alias Quantos, the CEO of Q Productions, a concert/music production and special events organizing company. Just in case you don’t know anyone of these judges, worry not – I will fill you in.
Stephanie Benson was born and raised in Ghana where she began studying the piano at the tender age of 3. At the age of 8, she was sent to the National Academy of Music, where she also learned to play the violin and cello. During these early years Stephanie developed and honed her musical craft until at 14, when she moved to London following the death of her father. Under the watchful eye of her uncle in London, Stephanie channeled her energies on the piano, playing, to the extent that she got a residency singing and playing the piano at one on London’s famous nightclubs.
It was during this period that Stephanie was spotted by Peter Waterman who signed her to his label PWL. With PWL Stephanie released her first recorded single ‘Now is the Time,’ which earned her a top 20 position on the UK dance charts. Stephanie started developing her writing skills and began writing and collaborating with other writer/artists including the likes of Andy Hill (Bucks Fizz), Terry Britton (Tina Turner) Danny Schogger (Celine Dion), Wayne Vaughn (Earth Wind and Fire), Rob Davis (Kylie Minogue), and Stevie Wonder among others.
Stephanie soon began focusing and developing her live performances, as a solo artist and with a full live band in support. She has on more than one occasion been invited by Britain’s royal family and she has performed for many noted high-end clients and celebrities at prestigious and private events. She has had a few pubic performances in Ghana including a performance at her younger sister, Akosua Agyapong’s 20 years as a performing artist. Even after giving birth to 5 children, Stephanie still looks amazingly sexy and certainly she would be looking out for the best out of the Icons contestants.
Nana Nyarko Ackah-Yensu is the CEO of Q Productions which has produced albums for Kojo Antwi, Ebo Taylor, Gyedu Blay Ambolley, Atongo Simba and ‘Waterproof’ among others. Q Productions has also over the years produced concerts which have been headlined by internationally famous artistes such as Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Jermaine Jackson and Shabba Ranks. In 2005 Quantos and his company co-produced the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Jazz ensemble concerts and Stanbic Ghana Jazz festival. A founding member of the Jazz Society of Ghana, Quantos helped establish the recent Jazz and World Music Festival for the Alliance Francaise in Accra in 2010.
Regarded by many as one of the most capable music producers in Ghana today, Quantos has an enviable reach in the international music scene. He has access to or a working relationship with many reputable musicians in the world such as Bono, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Jermaine Jackson, Baaba Maal, Salif Keita and Richard Bona, to name a few. With such an eye for good music and talent, certainly the best of marks will only go the best out the competing girl-groups on Quantos’ score sheet.
Finally we have the ‘Queen of Weave’, Gena West whose love for big hair could very well be the talking point of the show. Gena qualified as a Barrister-at-Law in the UK and was first noticed for her talent whilst singing at a private party, when celebrated jazz singer Nina Simone suggested she turn professional. Within a few years she was signed to Arista Records/BMG and released her first single “Joy” which reached No. 6 in the UK Dance Charts, and No. 1 in Italy.
Highlights of her career include: the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, and many high profile private celebrity events, she’s even performed for The Queen of England! Gena has performed at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Barbican, Wembley Arena and St James’ Palace. At New York’s Madison Square Gardens Arena she took centre stage with gospel artists like Alvin Slaughter, Terry MacAlmon , Cece Winans, Phil Driscoll and others, both as a performer and a presenter of the event. Last year, Gena was chosen to be the star performer at Bvlgari”s 125th anniversary celebrations held in Rome.
Gena’s first album, “Voices” is a critically acclaimed a cappella gospel album that celebrates the power, joy and emotion of gospel music. She produced and released her second album “No Power Against me” in April 2008 in New York and she has just finished writing and recording her third more soulful R&B album, scheduled for general release in the New Year.
With such accomplished individuals as judges, it would certainly be interesting to see how much they would demand from the 7 groups of girls when the show debuts on Sunday, February 13. Icons: Divas Edition will air on major TV stations in Ghana and on pan-African cable networks. TV3 has the prime spot telecast at 8.00pm with Net 2, Multi TV, Crystal TV, ETV and GTV and Metro TV (yet to be confirmed) joining in at 8.30 each Sunday evening.