Does India have the X factor?

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India's version of the X factor has launched with performances ranging from the amazing to the downright atrocious. But as one of many reality singing shows in India, can the format win over one of the world's largest television audiences?

A bad singer is a bad singer, no matter where you are in the world.

As contestants took to the stage for the opening auditions for X Factor India, viewers on Sunday night could watch a startling variety of hopefuls, who lived up to the show's trademark mix of the truly talented and truly appalling.

What marks out the Indian version of the show is the country's rich and diverse musical heritage, which saw performers try their hand at everything from Bollywood to Bhangra.

"We've had everything from 16 Rajasthani folk singers dressed in turbans singing in high-pitched voices to the soft voice of a 70-year-old man who has been brought up with the Bollywood traditions of the 1960s," says Sonu Nigam, one of the judges on the Indian show.

With the same theme tune, stage set, categories and editing style, the "look" of X Factor India is almost identical to that of its British predecessor.

India's Cheryl Cole?

But for those familiar with the original UK format, the similarities don't stop there.

Nigam is one of three on the panel of India's X-factor, all of whom are big Bollywood names. Nigam, who is one of India's most famous singing stars, is joined by director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and playback singer Shreya Ghoshal.

All are veterans of the reality TV format, having starred on similar shows before. Bhansali was a judge on the Indian version of Strictly Come Dancing (Jhalak Dhikalaja).

And in a parallel to the UK's Cheryl Cole, Indian singer Shreya Ghoshal was also discovered on a reality show, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa - she used it as a launch pad for a successful singing career.

It was her appearance on that show which caught the eye of fellow judge Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who gave her a singing part on the Bollywood film Devdas, for which she won a Filmfare award (the Indian equivalent of the Oscars).

"Being a judge is a different ball game," says Ghoshal. "It's emotional to be on the panel with my mentor."

On the X Factor, it was Nigam who took centre stage on the judging panel, at times even joining contestants on stage as they sang. When one dejected contestant was turned down, she begged him for a hug, something he happily offered.

So do any of the Indian trio have any of the Simon Cowell put-downs? Nigam refused to be drawn on which of the judges, if any, would play the role of "Mr Nasty" on the panel.

"We could still be nicer, but we have to be honest. We are good at times, we are strict," he says.

"India is a great country with good music. This X Factor should beat every other X factor in the world," he says.

The show, which is already available in 24 countries including Australia and Indonesia, is set to launch in China and the United States this year.

"We are looking for this show to be making all the difference because this is the largest and the biggest market for the show. It's 1.2bn people we are talking about," says Raj Barua, from Fremantle Media, the show's creators, in India.

Indian saturated reality

Mr Barua and his colleagues believe the growth and evolution of India's television market will make it a big success.

The show has taken more than a year of planning, says Barua. His colleagues at Sony TV, the network airing the show, hope it will fill a ratings hole left by the end of the Indian Premier League cricket season.

But the reality singing format is nothing new to Indian viewers.

As far back as the 1990s similar shows were airing on television. Meri Awaaz Suno (Listen to my voice), could lay claim to being one of the world's first reality singing shows, launching the career of Indian singer Sunidhi Chauhan.

Image caption,
Sonu Nigam was the first presenter of reality show Sa Re Ga Ma

In 1995, the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa show began. Arguably one of the most popular programmes on Indian television, it has a simple and familiar format, with contestants singing songs in front of a panel of judges before getting feedback.

Still on television now, the show has a number of spin-offs including a children's version, and shows in regional Indian languages. It is also popular with Indians around the world.

The first presenter of Sa Re Ga Ma was Sonu Nigam, who was later replaced by Aditya Narayan. Narayan is the current host of X-Factor. He is India's answer to the UK's Dermot O'Leary - his presenting style and mannerisms are identical.

Western formats like Pop Idol (Indian Idol), and Strictly Come Dancing (Jhalak Dikhhla Ja) are also popular here.

So will the X Factor win the approval of Indian audiences? Ratings for the current show are not yet out, but the calibre of the judging line up could help the show, says Jyoti Venkatesh, an entertainment journalist who has covered Bollywood for more than three decades.

Mr Venkatesh says the reality TV market is already saturated in India: "As of now, we've had enough of reality singing shows. Frankly speaking, there is no room for anymore, but you never know which one will break through and become a success," he says.