Arab Idol could take the crown as US bubble pops

Falling ratings have brought an end to the trailblazing music talent show in the US, but there are still hopes that Middle East version could produce some more superstars.

Could Arab Idol, whose judges included Hassan El Shafei, Ahlam, Nancy Ajram and Wael Kfoury, become the biggest Idol franchise after Amereican Idol goes? MBC
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Falling ratings have brought an end to the trailblazing music talent show in the US, but there are still hopes that Middle East version could produce some more superstars.

She is a 22-year-old call centre operator who has suffered domestic abuse, spent time in a women’s refuge and has a one-year-old child.

Reality shows revel in an emotional back story and there has been something especially heart-warming about La’Porsha Renae’s rise to American Idol favourite.

If she wins this week’s finale, she will be the last American Idol.

The show that once dominated television viewing figures in the United States is considered past its sell-by date.

Even the successful Arab Idol had a season off last year, to make way for MBC to screen some new reality shows, including The Voice Kids.

The Idol franchises – 57 spin-off shows across the globe – were inspired by British show Pop Idol.

Created in 2001 by Simon Fuller, the man behind the Spice Girls, the idea was simple and lifted from a New Zealand reality talent show called Popstars.

Fuller’s Pop Idol, though was about the search for a solo star rather than a group and it involved a public vote alongside the views of the judging panel. Its first winner, Will Young, went on to enjoy a significant music career.

The British show only ran for two series. The chemistry between the judges and their antics made the show a huge success but also became its downfall.

In 2004, Simon Cowell, now a judge on the two-year-old American Idol as well as Pop Idol, used his popularity to persuade ITV to commission his talent show, The X Factor, and Pop Idol was put on hold.

Cowell’s show still runs in the UK, although its viewing figures have also faltered.

In the United States, meanwhile, American audiences lapped up the drama at the judges’ table, with Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, and the chance to vote to save their favourite singers.

Ratings were huge and American Idol’s place in the national conversation was confirmed with the debut single of Kelly Clarkson, winner of the first season, becoming the best-selling track of 2002 in the US.

A year later, Ryan Malcolm was voted the first Canadian Idol in a show hosted by Ben Mulroney, the eldest son of former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney. The series became the most popular television show in Canada.

However, Malcolm’s career trajectory mirrored that of most of the American Idol winners – outside Clarkson and Carrie Underwood – immediate success followed by relative obscurity, suggesting Idol franchise was more about the journey than the destination.

Perhaps the lack of a mega superstar removed some of the shine from the show because by 2008, Canadian Idol was over, crippled by a halving of its viewing figures, the economic downturn and the huge success of American Idol across the border.

Meanwhile, Australian Idol started up in 2003.

It lasted just one more season than Canada – with nosediving audience figures bringing it to an end in 2009.

To be fair, its first winner, Guy Sebastian, and last, Stan Walker, have enjoyed fruitful careers in the Australian music industry.

But it is telling that Walker and Sebastian both ended up as judges on The X Factor, which in many countries came to compete with the Idol franchise.

Add The Voice into the mix – a Dutch programme that now has as many international versions as Idol and The X Factor – and it did not take a television expert to surmise that the world was in danger of suffering from talent show fatigue.

When Indian Idol failed to make huge stars of its winners despite what seemed to be ideal conditions for success, a junior version of the show took its place from 2013.

France still has its Nouvelle Star and Germany enjoys a bit of Deutschland Sucht Den Superstar of a Saturday, which made a fleeting star of Mark Medlock, a bin collector who sold 3 million records before his private life became troubled.

Then, of course, there’s Arab Idol, which succeeded Super Star in 2011 and made a star of former Palestinian refugee Mohammed Assaf in 2013.

So compelling was his story – from wedding singer in Gaza to Arab Idol winner – there was even a movie made about it.

Hany Abu Assad’s film The Idol is proof that the premise of Pop Idol – regular people being given a shot at their dreams – still holds water and has the ability to enthral audiences.

Yet for all the television show’s incredible success in the Middle East, with 120 million people watching as Assaf was crowned, there was no Arab Idol last year, although a fourth season is scheduled for this year.

It may well be as American Idol comes to a close that Arab Idol will become the biggest show in the franchise, only time will tell.

In the meantime, for Idol fans Mohammed Assaf is performing today at the Spring Summer Fashion event at City Centre Deira in Dubai.