It’s finally happening. After years of anticipation, Pakistan has finally landed the lauded Idol franchise. Pakistan Idol starts airing on GEO TV this week but does it have what it takes to grip the nation?

Pakistan Idol contestants
Hopefuls ready to audition for Pakistan Idol

 Pakistan has produced some great musical talent. Could Pakistan Idol turn up talent like Nazia Hassan, Sajjad Ali, Vital Signs, Strings, Ali Zafar or Atif Aslam? For the most part these aren’t just playback singers- they are a true artists who compose music too. This is where many previous Idol winners abroad have failed to make an impact – they are performers not songwriters.

Would Bilal Khan who found fame through his song Lamha on Coke Studio have made it past the Idol Judges desk? Possibly not – his delivery developed over time but it was his songwriting that the public fell for. Then again, Coke Studio focuses primarily on established artists, only introducing maybe one new singer every season. Nescafe Basement introduces new talent but has little original content. The Pepsi-sponsored Pakistan Idol is a much wider talent hunt than ever seen before in Pakistan. It is more about entertainment and showmanship than Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement, which seem to portray themselves as musical jam sessions. Each show has its strengths and weaknesses and there is room for all three in Pakistan’s nascent music industry. We need as many platforms for talent as possible in this country. Pakistan Idol goes way beyond what any other talent show in Pakistan has accomplished thus far. Pakistani shows like Sangeet Icon, Pakistan Music Stars and LG Awaaz Banaaey Star have not managed to have the sort of impact that Pop Idol and its spin offs like American Idol have achieved in dozens of countries.

The Idol franchise is a well-oiled machine. There are reams of guidelines to ensure the show keeps to a familiar format. This is great for fans but production quality is not the only factor for success. The chemistry between the judges, the host and ultimately the talent and personality of the contestants is what makes the show compelling viewing. So what have we got to look forward to?

The judges

Pakistan Idol judges Bushra Ansari, Ali Azmat and Hadiqa Kiani
The judges

Pakistan Idol has picked an intriguing trio of judges. Talented and passionate, Ali Azmat is one of Pakistan’s musical icons. He has achieved both commercial success and critical acclaim, first with Junoon and later as a solo artist. He is reputedly the “Simon Cowell” of the group. Azmat’s breadth of experience makes him an ideal person to assess and mentor the contestants. Exacting and plain-speaking, he has very high standards and little tolerance for those who fail to meet them. He has the same “Iron Judge” role that Anu Malik played in Indian Idol – it’ll be interesting to see what he makes of it.

Pakistan Idol Bushra Ansari
Bushra Ansari in Ayesha Farook Hashwani

Bushra Ansari may be known primarily as an actress but apparently she’s an accomplished classical singer too. As a trained and versatile singer, her focus will obviously be on the technical strength of the contestants. Like Randy Jackson in American Idol and Javed Akhtar in Indian Idol, she’s the “Melody Judge”.  She’ll be the one paying attention to whether the contestants can stay in tune – or not. Ansari is an interesting choice as the “Melody Judge” because she is mainly recognized as an actress. She certainly has the presence and authority to make a good judge but it will be interesting to see how Pakistan takes to her as a musical expert.

Pakistan Idol judge Hadiqa Kiani
Hadiqa Kiani in Maheen Karim

Hadiqa Kiana is one of the few women to make it on the Pakistani pop scene. She has released 5 albums in total and has performed all over the world, including on British TV. She has been criticized by a few for not managing to impart emotion in her singing and for a limited vocal range. However, she was classically trained as a singer and is one of Pakistan’s most consistent female artists. Hadiqa has achieved a fair measure of success, including awards for her playback singing. She is also popular for her style and has managed to successfully reinvent her image several times. If Paula Abdul can be a judge on American Idol then Hadiqa is more than qualified to be a judge on Pakistan Idol. Like Paula, Hadiqa is apparently the “Soft Judge”. She won’t let mediocrity through but is more sympathetic to the contestants and helps calm their nerves.

Pakistan Idol host Mohib Mirza
Pakistan Idol host Mohib Mirza

The host

Mohib Mirza is a totally rocking host. The talented actor, married to Aamina Sheikh, has both looks and screen presence. He has the crazy energy, empathy and enthusiasm that the role requires. He admires American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and says hosting Pakistan Idol has always been a dream of his. As a huge fan of American Idol, he remembers how watching the show was an event in his household. He’s confident Pakistan Idol will touch a chord with viewers in Pakistan. Mohib’s personality jumps off the screen and he could be a major plus for Pakistan Idol.

The contestants

Pakistan Idol contestants
Contestants brave torrential rain for a chance to be Pakistan Idol

PakIdol held auditions in 7 cities across Pakistan. Apart from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, PakIdol also visited Faisalabad, Sukkur, Multan and Peshawar. In total, over 30,000 hopefuls stood in line to audition for one of the world’s most famous talent shows. From tailor’s apprentices to banker’s daughters – Pakistan Idol has attracted contenders from all walks of society. The team has seen women in abayas belting out rock songs and jeans-clad youngsters rendering classical songs. Initial reports suggest that the auditions consisted of the usual Idol mix of the talented, the deluded and the plain weird.  Hopefully the production team will strike that sweet balance between talent, pathos and comedy which makes the audition phase such fun to watch. From then on, everything depends on the personality and talent of the top 24 contestants chosen by the judges.

Pakistan Idol contestants
Voting is part of the fun of the Idol franchise – the judges may choose the top 24 but ultimately its a popularity contest

The inside track

By the theatre round there was already young woman that people were calling a junior Shreya Ghoshal. There are diminutive, seemingly shy performers who turn on a megawatt personality in front of the camera. Training is not a pre-requisite. Some of the best competitors have had no formal training whatsoever. On the other hand, some hopefuls from well-known, musically inclined families in Lahore didn’t make the grade. Classically trained, they were so used to singing in a stylized way that they couldn’t sing a simple tune. For this format, their classical music education was a handicap. So far the progress of the competition, which is still being shot, is throwing up a few surprises.

Pakistan Idol filming
Filming is super secret as obviously Geo doesn’t want any spoilers

The style factor

One of the most fascinating parts of the Idol process is seeing the contestants’ image change as they get access to stylists. That’s a process that starts later in January when we get down to the top 24. Meanwhile Pakistan Idol has teamed up with some of Pakistan’s best designers and high street brands for the judges’ and host’s wardrobes. Top-drawer designers such as Sana Safinaz, Shehla, Ayesha Farook Hashwani, Maheen Karim, Nida Azwer, Nomi Ansari and Nida Azwer have all been involved. High Street brands like Stoneage, Crossroads and Fifth Avenue have also contributed to what seems to be a very style conscious show.

The voting

This should be interesting. We’ve seen it all with American Idol and Indian Idol – the tactical voting, the surprise voting, the automated voting scandals and more. How fab to be able to vote ourselves this time rather than passively watching the results?!

Pakistan Idol contestants
Huge lines are only the first step on the road to becoming Pakistan Idol

So who will be the very first Pakistan Idol?

Winning Pakistan Idol is set to change someone’s life. The prize includes a contract with Sony Music, a new car as well as a yet-to-be-announced cash sum. For an aspiring artist the recording contract is the biggest lure but Pakistan’s music industry is still in its infancy. Shows like SaReGaMaPa across the border have prospered because there is huge market for playback singers in Bollywood. Many of our best stars have found success as playback singers for Bollywood. With downloads and piracy changing the entire global music industry, it’s difficult to know how the winner’s career path will pan out. What’s certain is that the winner has the potential to become a household name in Pakistan and is certain of a fair amount of international exposure.

The judges are looking for more than just a voice, they are looking for a star. The winner has to have a great stage presence, talent, presentability and the ability to engage the audience. At the end of the day, however, it’s the public who votes for the winner. It’s impossible to comment until we’ve seen the top 24 but remember part of the fun of Pakistan Idol is that it isn’t just a talent contest, it’s a popularity contest too.

This article was first published in the Sunday magazine of the The Daily Times Pakistan.

Copyright 2015 Karachista. All rights reserved

Salima Feerasta

Salima Feerasta is chief editor of and one of Pakistan's top fashion and lifestyle journalists.

1 Comment

Write A Comment