MONDAY MAN: Say Teen Talent, say Tony
ANYONE WHO HAS EVER attended the Richard Stoute Teen Talent Contest knows who Tony is.
He is quite personable but he rarely talks. His customary spot is a table for one discreetly positioned behind the judges. There you will find him dapperly dressed, either standing or sitting with a pen and paper in hand taking notes.
Tony is the judges’ coordinator and tabulator, as well as production and floor manager – a man who wears many hats. But regardless of whatever position he holds, in the view of many, he is the glue that holds the competition together.
An unassuming person, it doesn’t bother him that he has never publicly received the praises deserved for his mountain of undertakings. “All I do, I do for the children,” he told the DAILY NATION.
When Tony, real name Hugh Clarke, began his association with the talent contest, the show was being held at the George Street Auditorium, West Indies cricket was king and bus fare was 75 cents. If that seems like a long time ago, that’s because it is.
Born in Martindale’s Road, St Michael, Tony’s family was relocated to St Barnabas in 1964 to make way for the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
It was while there that he walked to school a short distance away to Erdiston Primary and later gained a Government scholarship to the Modern High School.
Tony couldn’t sing well – for that matter, he still cannot hold a key – but he loved music. So much so that when the Teen Talent contest was established in 1977, his face immediately became a fixture at the event.
At that time, he was among a large contingent from The Pine, St Michael that would make their way to Belleville every Sunday to support the youngsters. He was so supportive of the show that he accepted the responsibility of going to the venue as early as two hours before the 6 p.m. scheduled start to reserve chairs for his group.
“I used to go down early because at that time the auditorium used to be burst. I would go down early on mornings before the chairs put down and wait until all the chairs put down and put some reserve seats for the group. It was so amazing that when the gates would open, I would be going back home to bathe and come back to the show ’cause my seat was already kept. At the finals, I would eat, bathe and change at the auditorium,” he laughed as he recounted.
Into the spotlight
Even back then, Tony kept his personal notes and scores from the competition. They were so precise and professionally done that when the then coordinator of the judges, Angela McGeary, needed help retrieving missed information, she would refer to his recordings for assistance.
Then one day around 1982, his passion for and knowledge of the show placed him in the spotlight.
Tony said he attended the show’s weekly rehearsals and one evening while there, Teen Talent founder Richard Stoute, asked him a favour.
Stoute asked him to go to the Voice of Barbados studio for an interview with the late Carl Scott to talk about a forthcoming show.
“I went there and Carl ask me all types of questions about the show. Bang on, I gave him the answers and he asked if I was involved with the show. I said ‘No, I’m a patron’. He was surprised by my knowledge of Teen Talent so he said to Richard, ‘Don’t let this guy get away from you’ and it all began just like that.”
After that, Tony was McGeary’s unofficial assistant for a good eight years. When she departed the show around 1990 and Stoute was in search of a replacement, Tony was the obvious choice.
Stoute approached Tony and asked if he could step in. However, Stoute stressed that he didn’t have any money to pay. In spite of that, Tony obliged.
“I said I am coming to help with the show, I don’t need any payment,” he recalled.
Over two decades later and as the show celebrates its 40th anniversary, the 61-year-old is still around, albeit with greater responsibility.
Although highly enjoyable, Tony’s tenure has not been without its challenges.
“I make it look easy,” he said with a smile.
“There were years I felt like quitting and actually one year I did, but I can remember [former winner] Laurie-Ann Caines called me and asked me to reconsider. As I was thinking, I remembered why I started – it was all for the children – so I came back shortly after.”
Tony has one daughter and a grandchild, but he is without a doubt “uncle” and “pops” to countless others.
On why he is so respected by many past and present contestants, he said: “I’ve never disrespected them so they look up to me as a father figure. I helped them in whatever way I could. They may have needed something and I pulled my own pocket to make sure they got it. I am not a singer but some would come up to me and ask for help with a song and I would point them in the right direction,” he said, again with laughter.
But no matter how brilliant his smile was, it couldn’t conceal the fact that one of his major challenges was the obvious stagnation of the show.
Many in Barbados’ entertainment industry have passed through the ranks of the institution that is Teen Talent, but of late, crowds have dwindled and so too have the standard of contestants entering the show.
What is the reason? What is the remedy?
For Tony, these were difficult questions to answer. Some blame it on the lack of a live band, but he said he believed it starts with past contestants, particularly males, not using their influence to mentor the youngsters and also to encourage fresh talent in the competition.
“We have had a lot of talent but for some unknown reason, they have not been taken up by anybody . . . . I don’t see [any]body come scouting for talent in the Teen Talent. There are so many [talented youngsters]; if someone had harnessed that talent we might have had more than one Rihanna, so to speak.
“You name the top guys in the industry [but] a lot of the people have not seemed to recognise the importance of Teen Talent, so stagnation is now big time. It is hard to say why, but one common factor is the males are not coming out like they used to. In years gone by the men used to outnumber the women, now we are struggling to get two guys in one preliminary.
“I am amazed that these guys heard about the Edwins, Ruperts and the Adrians and they don’t come out and try their hand at Teen Talent. It is amazing,” Tony said.
He said he would like to see some improvement for continuity and progression of the show.
“I can’t do no more from my side and I know Richard has been trying his best. If I had to do it all over, I would try to recruit some of the talent from the schools and build back the momentum in the Richard Stoute contest. It would be sad to let something die after 40 years.
“It is embarrassing because right now, it is stagnant. I would like to see more people coming. Teen Talent is a legacy and we just cannot let it reach a standard where it might die. I hope it wouldn’t. It has made a significant contribution to the landscape of Barbados, but there is much more it can do, and room for it to grow,” he added. (SDB Media)