The Next Big Thing may be an Indian talent contest, but its search goes well beyond the country's borders. This weekend auditions open in the UAE for the MTV India event, kicking off a month-long regional musical talent search. More than 90 would-be rock, Sufi and Bollywood stars are expected to apply online for the chance to compete, with the best invited to make their case stuff at Dubai's The Music Room on Saturday. From these live auditions, finalists will be selected to battle it out onstage, during four gigs starting next month, for the chance to win a record and video session produced by the hit TV channel.
Meet the judge
Sitting in the judge's seat will be Bollywood rocker Luke Kenny. Also known for his star turn in the 2008 hit movie Rock On!, Kenny says a contestant's success will depend as much on passion as technique.
“People try to break it down by saying, ‘best guitarist, best drummer and best singer’, but for me they’ve got to come across as a band in totality, a whole and unique musical package,” he says.
“The test for me is, as an audience member, would I want to see them again? A lot of people can practice all day, but at the end of the day, technique can only take you so far — it’s what you do with that technique, how you approach the audience and the songs.”
Following this weekend's closed auditions, 12 finalists will be invited back to perform at one of three heats, hosted in front of a live crowd at the same venue, on November 7, 14 and 21. Along the way, Kenny will offer finalists advice and mentoring. However, he says he is nothing like the X Factor's surly British judge Simon Cowell: "I'm more encouraging than critical," he adds. Nor will the cameras be rolling behind the scenes, with no plans to turn the competition into a talent-reality drama.
Next Big Thing is open to unsigned solo acts and groups of up to five members of primarily South Asian origins, who are GCC residents aged over 21.
While mixed groups will be accepted, all entries must perform at least one song in a “South Asian” style, such as desi rock, Sufi or Bollywood. Another rule stipulates that each entry must perform at least one original song, but Kenny says a cover-heavy set will not be unduly penalised.
“Throughout the whole history of rock ‘n’ roll you have great artists doing covers of great artists,” he says. “Bob Dylan and The Beatles sang covers – it’s about originality, it’s about what comes from the heart.”
After the three weekly heats, the winning act from each semi-final will be invited back to The Music Room on November 28 to compete in the grand final, for the top prize of an original track and video produced by MTV India. The runner-up will win an all-expenses paid trip to an international MTV event, while third place will take home Dh10,000 worth of music gear.
The Magik returns
Fans of Kenny – who describes his age as "immortal" – will welcome the news he is set to reprise his role as the leader of fictional band Magik for a Rock On! sequel set for next year.
“I’m going to be in it in a small way,” he says, “because at the end of the day, my character didn’t last the whole of the last film. There are only a few things you can do to bring me back – flashbacks is one of them.”
Kenny said he was also in the process of developing his own “music film project”, alongside raising funds for a mooted “Indo-Swedish road-movie love story”. And he will be back on stage, promising to close November 28’s final round with a live performance of some fan favourites.
“I think it is interesting to see MTV has chosen to do this competition in the Middle East,” added Kenny. “There’s a large Indian and expat population, and music has always been a good source of release from the hard workdays that exist in places like the Gulf. Hopefully we will get to see some different bands coming up from this region, that is generally considered a place for international talent to come into, not out of.”
• To enter Next Big Thing, email clips of original music to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday October 14. Successful entrants will be invited to Saturday’s audition. For further details on the auditions, contact 04 345 1165 or 056 739 7041