Indian Idol is creating history as far as reality shows go in India. And it's certainly touched a chord with the youth - which is very good news for Sony Entertainment Television.
It's not the first talent hunt but it's clearly the most successful in terms of viewership numbers. The fact that Indian Idol is being aired on a mainstream channel as opposed to a music channel like [V] or MTV gives it a lot more reach. Plus, Sony has invested heavily in promoting the show.
However, it could have gone either way. When the show launched with Anu Mallik, Sonu Nigam and Farah Khan, I wasn't too impressed. But they're playing out their roles qute well. Although none of them is as biting or caustic as Simon on American Idol, the judges have established a chemistry / rapport with the audience.
But the reason Indian Idol outshines any other shows of the same kind can be summed up in one word: involvement. We, the viewers, have a say in contestants' futures through the SMS and phone votes we send in. This gives us a stake in their success and failure - an active and not just a passive interest.
The fact that the top 11 have to go through several rounds until only one remains means we get to see their talent on display week after week. Indian Idol also gives us a peek into contestants' homes and backgrounds, so we identify with them as people. We start caring about them, feeling for them. We even develop likes and dislikes - as if we know each one personally.
Of course, this is working in a strange way AGAINST merit. As Ravindra, the painter who can't really sing too well made it to the last 5 while the talented Rahul Saxena was voted out before him. Clearly, Ravindra seems to be getting votes just for being an underdog.
However, Rahul's exit sparked a lot of comment and even protest letters to newspapers. And what do you know, he's been asked by judge Farah Khan to sing for her next film project while another axed contestant - Amit Tandon is now acting in an Ekta Kapoor serial. So simply being on Indian Idol has led to some kind of break for contestants.
Earlier singing talent hunts have thrown up the likes of Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal and Sanjeevani. But I think Indian Idol - in its first edition alone - will result in many more contracts and opportunities.
Perhaps it's just that the time is right now. The country - and the folks in the industry who make or break talents - are looking for freshness and newness. Once a Karan Johar or Sanjay Leela Bhansali has been on Indian Idol as guest judge and made positive comments about a contestant's 'star quality', others too sit up and take notice.
Bottomline: One hopes all this boils down to the eventual Indian Idol winner selling enough albums to be taken seriously as a singing sensation. The public voting by sms is great, but young people voting with their wallets is ultimately what will make the 'idol' a true star.