India Uncut

This blog has moved to its own domain. Please visit for the all-new India Uncut and bookmark it. The new site has much more content and some new sections, and you can read about them here and here. You can subscribe to full RSS feeds of all the sections from here. This blogspot site will no longer be updated, except in case of emergencies, if the main site suffers a prolonged outage. Thanks - Amit.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Some clues to understanding Indian Idol

Having followed Indian Idol fairly closely over the last two years -- heck, everyone's got some bad habits -- I pride myself on having a reasonably good feel of audience voting patterns. This year, from the stage when there were seven people left, I accurately predicted who was going to get voted out every week. Singing ability had little, though not nothing, to do with it. Some of the trends I noted:

1] The girls have it tough. This year, like last year, no girl made it to the last three. Last year two of the girls were certainly good enough singers to contend for the big prize -- Prajakta Shukre and Aditi Paul -- and this year a couple of them were certainly better than third-placed Anuj Sharma -- Antara Mitra and Meenal Jain. This trend was visible in the voting of the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa challenge earlier this year, where Himani and Twinkle were voted out rather too early.

I'm not sure why this should be so, and different conflicting reasons can explain it. One possible explanation: guys tend to vote more for guys, while women vote for both sexes; and guys are more likely to get carried away and send many SMSes, while women are more conservative in voting. This explanation might well be wrong, of course, but the trend is unmistakable, and unique to India: the ladies do okay in American Idol.

2] Early impressions last long. Both last year and this year, the winner of the show was also the winner of an early Piano Round. Abhijit Sawant sang "Tadap Tadap" in last year's piano round and topped the voting; Sandeep Acharya topped the voting of the second boy's piano round this year, despite the judges praising Amey Date and Anuj Sharma very highly.

This would also explain why Ravinder Ravi, who topped a piano round last year but was consistently besura after that, reached the last five, much to the judges' annoyance. He began with his best performance by far, and once the audience had categorized him as a remarkable untrained talent, with all the romance that label contains, they were loath to recategorise him.

This year's runner-up, NC Karunya, also won a piano round, but last year's runner-up, Amit Sana, just sneaked into the next round, so that's where this trend doesn't seem to hold up. But different trends conflict, and people do like underdogs, as Sana certainly was at the time.

3] Voters like underdogs. If the judges give a contestant a really hard time, it's a sign that all those who already support him will vote extra hard, and he'll arouse the sympathies of others who may not have voted for him. Last year, despite the judges justifiably laying into Ravinder Ravi for a number of rounds, he survived, often not even being in the final three. This year, at around the last-six stage, Sandeep delivered an out-of-tune performance, and was strongly berated by the judges. I knew instantly that was a turning point for him, and he was never in danger after that. Of course, he wasn't just an underdog, but was a competent singer and, most important, extremely likable.

4] Likeability is the most important thing. You have to be personable to win this contest. Singing ability is like a hygience factor: necessary, but not the key differentiator. Both the winners so far, Abhijit Sawant and Sandeep Acharya, are competent singers, but not as good as some of their competitors. But they have pleasant personalities, sweet smiles and are immensely likable.

Karunya is, by a long way, the best singer I've seen on an Indian talent show, but his ambition was perhaps too naked, and he didn't have that boy-next-door feel that Sandeep had about him. He'll clearly go far in his career, and we'll be listening to him decades after Sandeep has vanished from the public eye -- but he was clearly not going to win this one.

There are many factors that go into determining the winner, of course, and none of these, on their own, is enough. A likeable person may not sing well enough, an underdog may not be likable enough, and so on.

My liking for the show, by and by, is not diminished by the fact that the best singer hasn't won in either of the first two years. This is an incredible platform for talented singers, one that they wouldn't have had recourse to 10 years ago, and once its structure is made dependent on public voting, one really can't complain about the results. In a way, it is revealing about the people who watch it, and seeing voting patterns shift from episode to episode, especially as captive voters of voted-out participants reassign their loyalties, is great fun.

One sometimes gets to hear very good singing as well, which is a pleasant bonus.
amit varma, 12:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

I recommend: