A week (or maybe two or three) ago, I watched a few Indian Idol 4 auditions.
These were quite amusing - a number of cartoony characters made their way through the show. Contestants were scared witless with tasteless pranks. Some forced camaraderie was established between contestants. Some performed well, others bombed. One guy emotionally blackmailed the judges and then cried incessantly on camera. A girl couldn't bring herself to sing a single line (generally a bad sign) and promptly asked for a "personal" meeting with one of the judges. Standouts, both.
Honestly its hard to judge the quality of the singers during these rounds. But I noted with some satisfaction that the judges were in tremendous self-congratulatory mode after it was all over. "This is the best batch!" they said and patted themselves on the back at having picked such a fine bunch of potential superstars. Heck, they picked a few more than the allocated number of slots. All because there was just too much talent to be ignored.
Excellent, I said to myself. We'll have some good singing and be spared the early round kaan-khajuras of last season.
Thus encouraged, I settled in to watch a random episode of the Piano Round. It was the girls' turn to sing. But Hells Bells - the singing sucked so bad it blew chunks. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.
II4 is judged by four maharathis. There is Anu Malik, of course, who is an Idol fixture. He seemed to be in fine alpha male form. Fellow judges' opinions' are summarily dismissed by him if they happened to cross his. In fact, once he even dissed the junta for disagreeing with him. Then he pointed out that he was one of the junta himself - thus pulling off the considerable feat of castigating himself for disagreeing with him.
Javed Akthar also carries over as judge from last year. He is his usual low-key self and often picks up the mike with what looks like a heavy heart. He seems to be saying: "Wow, I'm going to have to make up something nice to say about this one too!"
Kailash Kher, fine purveyor of sufi songs and one of the finest talents of our generation, is the judge responsible for providing the singer's perspective. Kailash tries to retain a sunny, encouraging demeanor which he conveys with lines like "Hum prabhaavit hue!" Shades of Mogambo-like grandeur.
When Kailash speaks he acts like he's singing - he waves his hands around his face with the palm cupped upwards - like he's half-heartedly trying to catch a ball. He is also Anu Malik's nemesis - they once both fought over fellow judge Sonali Bendre!
Finally there is Sonali Bendre who tends to pretty much wait for one of the other three to say something before she aligns herself with their opinion. Ok, maybe I'm harsh here, so let me say this: she looks terrific, seems to have a fine sense of style and is more articulate and less giggly than last year's janaani judge: Alisha Chinai.
Anyways, back to the girls singing. I chuckled through the entire episode. Why? Because contestant after contestant came and sang badly. And the judges kept encouraging them instead of rolling their eyes and saying "WTF!? Go to your room (and watch SRGMP)!"
One singer came and howled through a song. Sonali gave her a standing ovation. Another squealed through an entire tune. Javed Akhtar called her voice "junta ki amaanat". Yet another played hide and seek with sur. Anu Malik hit on her. One more shakily navigated key parts of a song. She was given a silver coin.
Later all the contestants participated in product placement. This was done by inserting fake AirTel ringtones in what appeared to be a "hostel moment" where the boys and girls were just "hanging out" on a bed. (I would like to point out that two of the boys appeared to be making out with each other on camera. I kid you not - it all started with a head massage, but you should watch this show for yourself).
Fortunately II4 has the winning presence of co-host Meiyang Chang. Meiyang has the uncanny ability to build up an easy chemistry with almost everyone he encounters. He gives the show a lot of its youthful mojo. While he is clearly still fine tuning his act and once in a while tips over on the cuteness, he gives me enough indication he is going to be a huge star someday.
If Preity Zinta were an American and I were Bappi Lahiri, I would hold Meiyang's hand and say "Tum India ka Preeti Zeenta hey!"
Rest of the singers, aur mehenat karo!