Friday, March 21, 2008

Conservatives Protest Over Sole Woman Singer On Afghanistan's Version Of "American Idol"

A woman from Afghanistan's conservative Pashtun tribe is one of the top three contenders in the country's version of "American Idol" and a lot of conservatives aren't happy.

Detractors decry the fact an Afghan woman has found success singing on television, while others — younger Afghans — say the show is helping women progress. Under the Taliban regime that was overthrown in 2001, women were not even allowed out of their homes unaccompanied, while music and television were banned.

With her hair tucked under a wispy blue headscarf, Lima Sahar brushes off her critics, saying there can be no progress for women without upsetting the status quo. Sahar says she's just the latest in a long tradition of Afghan artists — albeit in a more modern form.

"Artists are historical and cultural in our country. Artists have been around a long time," Sahar told a news conference this week. "I came by the vote of the people of Afghanistan."

Sahar beat out 2,000 other hopefuls who auditioned for the third season of "Afghan Star." On Friday, the six-month-long TV show will name the final two contestants, based on votes sent in from viewers via text message. The format is the same as "American Idol," although the shows are not connected.

Afghanistan's conservative cleric's council has protested to President Hamid Karzai over "Afghan Star" as well as Indian dramas shown on Tolo TV, the country's most popular station.

"In the situation that we have in Afghanistan right now, we don't need a woman singer. We don't need ‘Afghan Star.' We are in need of a good economy, good education," said Ali Ahmad Jebra-ali, a member of the council. "If Lima Sahar wins 'Afghan Star,' how can she help the poor? This is not the way to help the Afghan people."

The singers perform in front of a studio audience and three judges, and past winners have been given recording deals. A woman finished fifth in the show's first season, but no female has risen as high as Sahar. The other two finalists are men.
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