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Wednesday, 10 June 2009

France has a "Nouvelle Star" - really?

Soan Faya must be pinching himself this morning.

The 28-year-old is France's "Nouvelle Star" (Pop Idol) after winning the final in the traditional televised head-to-head on Tuesday evening.

It was the climax to a programme which started with 25,000 hopefuls attending auditions and ended with Soan (pronounced Swarn), the former busker, beating the 18-year-old Leïla to clinch a recording contract with one of this country's major labels.

This year's final - a dismal affair - attracted only 3.8 million viewers, down from four million last year.

But that hasn't stopped the private channel M6 from announcing plans for a 2010 edition.

Ah - la Nouvelle Star - a long and often, for the viewer, tortuous journey through the supposed landscape of fresh French musical talent.

A word or two maybe on how the show functions.

Even though the Pop Idol format is a familiar one to many television viewers around the world, the French version has its own peculiarities.

For starters of course, the repertoire of songs from which the contestants have to choose is on the whole based on French "standards".

It makes sense really as it means that most viewers are at least familiar with many of the tunes each singer is taking a stab at "making their own".

There are also a fair number of attempts at interpreting popular English language songs, but more often than not the results are less than convincing (and that's putting it politely).

What perhaps doesn't make sense though is the system of voting, which opens immediately the show starts, and thus isn't really a judgement on the performances, but from the outset a popularity contest based on....well who knows?

In any case, one thing's for sure, it's not necessarily on musical talent.

This year was the seventh edition of la Nouvelle Star, and it has in the past thrown up some real surprises and introduced some singers who would probably have made it anyway, but were given the extra push by appearing on the show.

Amel Bent (season two, third place), Christophe Willem (season four, winner) and Julian Doré (season five, winner) have all been successful in the French-speaking world, and probably have the talent, voices and following to stick around for a while longer.

But many of the past winners, such as Jonatan Cerrada (season one), Steeve Estatof (season two) and Myriam Abel (season three, winner) after the initial "15 minutes of fame" seem to have slipped into relative obscurity, or at least haven't exactly taken the music world by storm.

The show of course has a jury of four "heavyweights" (a serious clearing of the throat) from the music industry.

The longest-serving member is André Manoukian, a jazz songwriter who has been with the programme since it started and makes rather wild and off the wall statements.

His most famous this year came after being subjected to one performance which he described as being evidence that there has been "An ETC - un erreur terrible de casting"

Then there's Lio, (real name Wanda Maria Ribeiro Furtado Tavares de Vasconcelos), a Belgian singer of Portuguese origin who had several (forgettable) hits in France in the 1980s.

Philippe Manœuvre spent the series hidden behind his trademark sunglasses and bringing yonks of experience as a rock journalist to the show.

Finally there was Sinclair (real name Mathieu Blanc-Francard) who is another singer-songwriter although most French would probably be hard pushed to name one of his hits.

Their initial task was to hold auditions up and down France for hopefuls from this country (of course) as well as Switzerland, Belgium and Canada, before whittling the choice down to the final 15.

There then followed the seemingly interminable and, often for the viewer, painful rigmarole of live weekly televised broadcasts as the finalists took to the stage.

The first show of the season, back in April, saw the voting public choose nine contestants to go through to the second round, with the jury picking one of the remaining six to join them.

After that of course the judges had a purely advisory role, assessing each performance, squabbling among themselves and generally putting on a show that at times was far more entertaining than that offered by those hoping to become la Nouvelle Star.

You know the score. It's not exactly original TV.

So back to this year's winner, Soan. A singer who, over the past couple of months has apparently built up enough of a following in spite of often forgetting the lyrics.

In fact "not singing" the whole song became something of a trademark as he relied on the admittedly excellent musicians to help him through each show.

So what exactly did he have going for him that has made him la Nouvelle Star?

It certainly can't have been his voice - one which sounded like something in between a groan and a shout as week in, week out he monotonously but relentlessly warbled his way to victory.

Well maybe it was the innovative use of far too much make-up as, eyes heavily blackened, he glared into the camera.

Or perhaps it was the Gothic garb he wore, including his "favourite dress" and Doc Marten type boots that wowed the viewers.

There again it could have been his successful attempts to ruin Edith Piaf's "L'accordéoniste", ridiculously "punk up" France Gall's "Poupée de cire, poupée de son," or attack Georges Brassens' "La mauvaise réputation".

Oh but wait, there was also the non-too original rendition of the Sid Vicious version of "My way", The Cure's "Boys don't cry", and U2's "One"...and many, far too many, dated and clichéd interpretations of songs in both English and French that left the viewer wanting "more".

Whatever the case, Soan is la Nouvelle Star, and next up is the real test as to whether he's able to come up with an album that anyone actually wants to buy.

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