Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sanjaya, Idol, India, racism & Ravi Ravinder

Sunday newspapers around the world are picking up an Associated Press story claiming that support from India has nothing to do with Sanjaya Malakar's success on American Idol. The article also flips off the Indian phone center theories with "most workers have calls automatically dialed for them by computers. They couldn't even call next door if they wanted to." But a check of popular Indian blogsites, including India Uncut, whose founder is quoted in the article calling Sanjaya "an object of ridicule" in India, show that interest is high. (See an Indian site's compilation of Sanjaya-related video clips here.)

And for the first time, the popular Uber Desi website, whose postings helped launch the call center theories, is suggesting that racism may be at the root of the anti-Sanjaya movement (see Celebrity Big Brother UK):

"...Is it really Sanjaya's singing why so many folks in America hate him or is it the color of the skin that is making them uncomfortable and hence the hatred?"

And there's another reason why Sanjaya's story is reverberating through India and the Desi community around the world: His rise on Idol is drawing many comparisons to a contestant on the first season of Indian Idol.

Two years ago, an impoverished Punjabi housepainter named Ravi Ravinder became the public's favourite after he sang "Khuda bhi aasman se jab zamin pe dekhta hoga."

And then all hell broke loose.

Because Ravi lacked any formal training, the judges became more frustrated as "talented" singers were voted off and he stayed in. Judge Anu Malik hated Ravi more than Simon Cowell hates Sanjaya-- and spoke these words long before Randy Jackson threw up his arms: "I have nothing to say to you because it seems our words carry no weight and the people of India seem to love you."

Said another judge: "I hope the people of India realize that they have to vote for someone who will represent the country. It's high time we started acting in a mature manner instead of being emotional fools."

Ravi became the most talked-about contestant on the show. Each week he survived, there were more conspiracy theories about voting irregularities and lost phone calls. And all the controversy and fuming judges only translated into more votes.

He made it to the Top 5. When he was finally voted off, some charged that the vote was fixed against him!. After Idol, Ravi was cleaned up and became a bigger star than ever. He released an album, accompanied by a music video shot in Barcelona and starring a former Miss Norway and is one of the busiest Indian Idol performers.

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