The “American Idol” brand has spawned countless spin-offs in the USA as well as abroad. The Arab world too has embraced the singing-contest format, both with “Star Academy” (which also exists in France) as well as a full-on copycat of it’s American predecessor, entitled—you guessed it—Arab Idol.
Arab Idol even visually resembles it’s American counterpart. The contestants sing on a round stage awash in blue lights, with an audience watching them as well as the panel of judges. There are three judges, older singer Ahlam (with the requisite collagen lip implants), a dashing older man (Ragheb Alama, a music producer) with wavy hair and Hassan El Shafei, younger man who appeared to be sporting a bit of a faux-mohawk. Unlike original American Idol Hosts Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, the judges keep their commentary short and sweet—and sweet, it appears, indeed: they don’t appear to put-down the contestants with callous and crude words, which is a relief. (Note: this writer only ever saw a brief glimpse of American Idol; for some reason, I never got into it, but I know enough about the dramatic antics of the judges to know that they probably only said what they said for shock value).
After every commercial break, the affable host with the light brown hair, definite salon-tan and nice blue eyes reminded viewers to log onto facebook.com/arabidol to either cast their votes or for more information. Along the bottom of the screen was the rolling list of numbers to text for your favorite contestant: Asiacell (for Iraq); Orange (a network also used in France), Zain (popular in Bahrain, I believe), Etisalat (covers Egypt), Oman mobile and many others.
The contestants were varied, but entirely male! The show, which is relatively new, includes male and female competitors; I think they preform on different episodes. They gave short performances, but to my ear, they sounded no different than the Arabic artists I listen to on my ipod; in other words, these were actual, genuine singers, not like the contestants on American Idol who were most likely selected for their personal lives and shock value than actual talent. (OK, so Carrie Underwood is an admittedly decent singer, and she has had great success; Kelly Clarkson, although I wouldn’t say has the most amazing voice, certainly had more feminist, thought-provoking songs; but don’t get me started on the other winners of the show). The Arab Idol contestants didn’t stand there on stage bawling, or crying because the opportunity “was just so amazing;” they accepted their critique with a smile, graciously, and it was on to the next one.
There was 30’s-age man named Mahmoud who wore an interestingly-patterned turban and robe who sung a traditional song; a young man named Youssef who also sang a very traditional song (although apparently with some background vocals, as when he stopped the song kept going) who was an apparent crowd favorite; a young Saudi or Gulf man (he wore a red-and-white checkered headscarf) who smiled lot but whose performance was a little dull (which the judges did appear to remark on); a cute boy named Hassan who was either from Tunisia or who sung a traditional Tunisian song (the audience was in love with him, and he lapped up the attention, blowing kisses) as well as several others who attempted to rock the stage.
Arab Idol was interesting primarily because I’d never watched an Idol, but there was something sorely lacking: the drama of elimination! At the end of the show, all the contestants came on stage and their names were read, but I’m not sure if they eliminated anyone! What’s up with that? Do they only eliminate people on certain shows, or did they announce the name but didn’t make a big deal of it, so as to lessen the blow to the loser? Either way, it makes me feel as though us Americans are bloodthirsty for winners and losers!