DUBAI // There is only one spot at the top and thousands want a shot at fame, fortune and hordes of screaming fans. Indian Idol, the reality musical show similar to American Idol, kicked off two days of auditions for Indians living in Dubai today. The show will debut its fourth season in September and has scouted for talent in Dubai for the past two years. A production crew with casting directors from India set up shop at the Indian High School in Karama after picking contestants from 15 Indian cities and London. They are making a final stop in Dubai, where thousands of hopefuls gathered for auditions.
Aspiring stars aged from 16 to 30 streamed into the school auditorium from 8.30am. Some paced, some chatted or sent text messages on mobile phones. Some sang, while others used plastic chairs as makeshift drums before being marched off in groups of 10 to the audition rooms. Each contestant was given a number prefixed with the Dubai code: DX. The crew recognised one of the contestants, Sai Iyer, 25, a graphic designer who works in Media City. He tried to qualify in Mumbai for the first two seasons. Since then, he has moved to Dubai, but decided to try again.
Having taken a day off from work and juggling nervous phone calls from his parents who were familiar with the routine, Mr Iyer had spent the morning trying the notes and scales of the two songs he planned to present on his keyboard before switching to a guitar. "I have been singing since the age of seven," he said. "I have a bit of training from my mother who sings Indian classical music." Amitabh Atreya, the creative director of Indian Idol, was all too familiar with the phenomenon of familiar faces popping up at auditions.
"Lots of people come on stage and realise that they are not so good," he said. "Some take the advice and leave, some don't. They come back. It becomes a habit for some. They just want to be on camera. But then there are those who go back, learn and come back and make a difference." One competitor reached the finals last year after being rejected the previous year, but Mr Atreya has also had to deal with those who do not take rejection well. Some ask for a second chance immediately, others throw a fit. "Like that, there are hundreds of stories," he said.
The morning session saw a rush of high-school students on their summer break. Later in the day, professionals on their lunch breaks were showing up to audition. Deepika Satyarajan, 17, wanted to model her life on Sunidhi Chauhan, one of Bollywood's young crop of playback singers who was discovered on another musical reality show. When she qualified for the next round, she clutched at her heart. Atif Khan, 28, a crane operator sporting a tight orange T-shirt and striped jeans, was quietly confident.
"If I am selected, my life will change," he said, adding that he was already working on his first album. Indian Idol can turn previous years' finalists, such as Meiyang Chang, into instant celebrities. During a stopover in Calcutta on his way to join his father's dental practice, Chang signed up for an audition last year for fun. Today, he is hosting the reality segment of the auditions for the television show on Sony Entertainment Television, Asia.
Throughout the day, aspiring vocalists interrupt his television taping for autographs and photos. Chang and three other finalists from last year have formed a boy band called the F4s. "It stands for anything from fabulous to freaky to funky," he said. "Actually, it is open to interpretation." Fans, especially girls who have come to audition, cannot get enough of this sort of attitude. "I don't understand people who go hysterical," said Chang. "But it is nice to see children smile. Our biggest fan base: girls and kids."
The contestants who qualified will sing again for a panel of celebrity judges and while there is no fixed number of candidates from any city, seven were selected from Dubai last year. Late in the day, contestants will find out whether they are bound for Mumbai, where they face at least three more elimination rounds before the final 20 are picked for the live show. "In an instant you see potential," said Mr Atreya. "Basically, you see people and you see promise. Then you see them grow."