The show is actually not officially affiliated with Idol, but uses the same concept, in which singers compete for the title “Afghan Star” – the nation’s favorite singer. What’s particularly interesting in this case is that music was considered sacrilegious by the Mujahedeen, and then forbidden by the Taliban (1996-2001).
By the finale, 11 million (a third of the country) were watching and voting by mobile phone, which some say is the first experience with democracy for many Afghans. According to the Afghan Star documentary, “This is a highly radical idea in a country still essentially based on a male-dominated tribal elder system. For the first time young people, ethnic minorities and women have an arena in which to shine. And at last, the people are allowed to vote for who they want.”
The documentary – the UK’s official Foreign Language submission to the 2010 Academy Awards and winner of two Sundance awards (World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary and World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary) – showcases four contestants as they make their way through the competition. Here is a link to the trailer: http://www.afghanstardocumentary.com/watch_sm.html
One of these contestants, a 21-year old woman named Setara, became particularly controversial when she removed her headscarf and danced during a performance. She went into hiding after receiving numerous death threats, also received by the show’s producers. In addition, Afghan clerics demanded the show be taken off the air for being un-Islamic.
More recent information on the TV show is difficult to find (at least in English), and the website, www.afghanstar.tv, appears to no longer exist. But apparently Season 5, a Superstar edition, was the most recent season to air, during the summer of 2010.
The case of “Afghan Star” illustrates that even the core concept of a show, such as music and singing, may be received differently by different cultures.