Real struggle of Reality show winners

Abhijeet Sawant talks about the need of a mainstream non-bollywood music industry in India

I was still in school when the biggest reality show import hit the airwaves – Indian Idol. Viewers who were already aware of the phenomenal success of the show’s original American version were ecstatic that it had finally reached Indian shores, and the rest were simply taken aback by the overwhelming crowds of talented singers it had drawn out. Its participants became the most talked about, debated, and prayed for individuals during its run time, culminating in the explosive moment of the announcement of the winner of a competition that had the entire nation at the edge of their seat.

It’s practically impossible to count the number of reality shows that followed Indian Idol into our living rooms, its proliferation creating winners too many, and diluting their time in the spotlight. Whatever happens to the previous title holder, we often wonder. Well, who better to answer that and a lot more about reality tv than the first and most popular Indian Idol, Abhijeet Sawant!

Your fans want to know what is keeping you busy these days

“Performing in international tours keeps me occupied, and I’m also working on singles right now. I have a few covers out already, including Zaalima from Raees which has nearly three million views on YouTube.”

You were a runner up on Asian Idol the same year you won Indian Idol. How was that experience? 

“It was on a different level altogether, with participants who had won the Pop Idol competition in six Southeast and South Asian countries including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam. Apart from our mother-tongues, we had to perform in English as well, which was kind of difficult for me because I wasn’t very fluent in it. I had to put in extra effort to get the pronunciations and tone right. I think that made the competition a little more challenging for me.”

“Junoon” from your second album charted in India at a time when pop music was on the decline. What made it work?

“Junoon was way ahead of its time in sound, and even though it did well I don’t think it got the credit it deserved. What made it stand out was its lyrics as well which was not about romantic love but more about ambition and will to overcome challenges. The video too left an indelible mark on people’s memory.”

Why is it that even after drawing such high TRP, reality show winners don’t get the prominence playback singers of Bollywood do?

“See that is because currently we don’t have a non-bollywood music industry in the country that runs parallel to bollywood music, which is considered mainstream. Once that becomes equally dominant, artists won’t face a challenge producing independent work. One can already see the transition in the popularity of songs by Honey Singh and Badshah – but that covers just one genre.

For non-bollywood music industry to grow it has to be inclusive of other genres as well which might take some time. The audience themselves too have to be educated in different styles of music, such as classical, for them to appreciate non-commercial tunes. It’s definitely easier to make one’s music more available with YouTube around now; the medium wasn’t so utilised back then.”

What is the advantage that winners of music competitions get over other participants when it comes to signing contracts? 

“Ironically, the winners find themselves at a disadvantage compared to the others! Since we sign up with a label immediately after winning the title, our career is managed and steered by somebody else, and often it does not agree with what we want. The other participants on the other hand start from scratch and have more freedom in making choices. At the end of the day it does not matter who won and who didn’t – it all comes down to ones networking skills in the industry.”

What is your take on autotune? Does it undermine trained singers in favour of mediocre singers? 

“There are a lot of factors that determine a playback singer’s success in the industry – a trained singer may not be able to deliver a song as well as a mediocre singer might, or, a trained singer’s voice may not be compatible with the actor who would be lip-syncing it on screen. You can’t superimpose Justin Beiber’s voice on Brad Pitt, it wouldn’t be believable. Unfortunately that is how it works here, and it is also a reason why we should have an avenue for independent artists. Autotune is just a software that is applied to recorded voice; if the voice itself is not good enough, autotune can take it only so far.”

Are reality shows a credible judge of talent? A lot of participants who have not won are doing better than those who won the competition..

“If a singer is really good and knows how to market himself, winning does not play an important role in his career. Arijit Singh is a great example of this. Another thing to understand is that since these competitions are propelled by audience vote, the dramatic background scores in the show often influence the voter’s decision which then is driven by their emotion and sentiments. If you notice, the competitors who reach the final stages of the competition don’t really differ much in their skills – the margin is very narrow. But because the format demands only one winner to be selected, it is done so. Just like social media sites, reality shows are primarily just a platform for the participants to be noticed.”

Finally, why did you take up politics?      

“I am from Dharavi, and when I was competing in Indian Idol my entire locality showed me immense support and love. The least I could have done for them was represent them in a government body when the opportunity came my way. Politics too is very complicated and not easy.”

-by Zaiceka Ahmed

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