Thousands of labourers are preparing their voices for Camp ka Champ, a working man's version of American Idol.
Idol dream for bathroom crooner
DUBAI // For Jatin Harivadan Khatri, singing is love's labour.
The self-confessed bathroom crooner's melodious voice won over judges who last year named him the best among hundreds of labourers in the Western Union Camp ka Champ ("champ of the camp").
That's not bad for a man on his first public appearance.
"I have always thought of myself as fit to be only a bathroom singer before I decided to audition last year," Mr Khatri says. "But when I took part … I discovered my talent for singing."
Mr Khatri, 28, from India, and other construction workers in the Emirates will vie again this year for the honour of being named one of two latest singing idols.
The contest, similar to American Idol, was launched in 2007 exclusively for workers.
This year, more than 3,000 labourers will have a chance to exercise their vocal cords as the three-month hunt for the new UAE idol begins on Saturday in Sonapur.
The contest carries cash prizes of Dh1,500 and prizes including electronics goods from sponsors for the two winners. There are other prizes for the singers who make the finals.
Labourers, mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, sing their favourite numbers in a language of their choice to qualify for the first round. They are also encouraged to accompany other singers on instruments.
But time is running out for Mr Khatri, who comes from Gujarat state, in his tilt at a second title.
"I have been practising ever since I won," says the employee of the contractor ETA Ascon. "I hope to win again. This will be the last year I will take part in the event before I go back to India for good."
Mr Khatri says he is returning to India for family reasons.
He says performing for a large audience of friends and fellow workers gave him confidence in his abilities, and encouraged him to shed his shyness.
"Labourers rarely get a platform to display their talent," Mr Khatri says. "Besides, after a hard day's work, if music can help us forget our families and our problems for even a few minutes, there is nothing like it."
Organisers say the number of companies eager for their employees to participate is increasing each year.
Last year, 40 labour camps owned by nine companies took part. This year, the number has gone up to 60 camps from 12 companies and the event is no longer confined to Dubai.
"With plans to tap Ras al Khaimah, Umm al Qaiwain and Ajman, we will go truly national this year," says Rupa Vinod, the managing director of Right Track Advertising and the organiser of the event.
"It has been a much-anticipated part of the UAE labour community's calendar for the past four years.
"Since its inception, this corporate social responsibility initiative has empowered a host of skilled and unskilled workers to become icons within their little worlds through the sheer power of their voices."
Ms Vinod attributes the event's popularity to the fact that no singing experience is required.