They are cleaners, masons and security guards, but on Friday night the contestants of this year’s ‘Dubai Idol’ became legends among their cheering colleagues.
In front of an audience of hundreds, they sang their way through Bollywood classics in a bid to become this year’s ‘Camp Ka Champ’.
The annual event, held on a pool-side stage at Al Nasr Leisureland in Oud Metha, has become a high point in the social calendar of thousands of labourers.
“All year I have been waiting for this,” said Ashraful Alam, 25, from Bangladesh, who spends his days cleaning up after his colleagues in a labour camp in Al Quoz, where he lives.
“It’s my aim to not only win, but also to go further. One day I want to be a professional singer.”
This year’s contestants were selected from a pool of almost 2,000 applicants from 40 labour camps in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.
They had been auditioned in a four-month process by a panel of judges consisting of officials from the show organisers, and Shobana Chandramohan, the winner of the South Indian talent show Sarigama.
“The standard this year is actually very good. There’s a lot of talent in the camps,” said Ms Chandramohan, herself a Dubai resident of 15 years.
The event started in 2007 with three companies and about 400 labourers participating. This year it had nine companies and its 2,000 applicants were drawn from labour camps in Dubai and beyond. There are plans to expand to Saudi Arabia and Qatar next year.
On Friday night, yellow buses brought labourers from across the country to cheer on their colleagues. Dancing and waving inflatable ‘beaters’, many maintained a frenetic pace throughout the performances, despite the humidity of the night.
“I love dancing more than anything,” said Mukhlasmia, 21, from Bangladesh, who was there to cheer on the team from Belhasa Group of Companies, a Dubai-based conglomerate.
The show is part singing competition, part quiz show. Whoever hits the buzzer first and sings the right song gets 100 points.
Interspersed with performances from a dance troupe and professional singers, the number of contestants is whittled down from nine teams of two men each, to three teams in the final.
By the time of the last round – named the ‘anti-dandruff round’ in a nod to the sponsors – the Belhasa team was leading the previous year’s winners from ETA Star Group, also a Dubai-based conglomerate.
However, it was the team from ETA that pipped them to the post.
“Today they gave us very hard competition,” said Mohsin Khan. “Last year, it was not so hard.”
The words were scant consolation to the Belhasa team.
“I’ve been competing for four years now, I’m quite sad we didn’t win this time,” said Mohammed Jamil, 24, a Belhasa mason from India who lives in a camp in Sonapur.
But despite the frustration of losing, the buzz of performing in front of a cheering crowd is enough to draw Mr Jamil back for next year’s competition.
“As long as there is life in my body, I will compete again,” he said.