By public demand, really?
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By public demand, really?

Audience voting may be a boon for reality shows, but it's not a win-win for participants, writes Kshama Rao.

india Updated: Jan 23, 2006 15:56 IST
Kshama Rao
Kshama Rao

They say 'Yehjo public hai, yeh sab jaantihai'.

But ask Rahul Saxena (one of the early and big upsets of the first edition of Indian Idol), Nihira Joshi and Himani Kapoor (two of the top contenders at the ongoing Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge), Shilpa and Apoorva Agnihotri and Archana Puran Singh and Parmeet Sethi (celebrity couples who were part of the recently concluded Nach Baliye) and they would probably tell a different story.

For all of them have borne the brunt of the unpredictability of 'audience voting' on these shows.

Audience voting -- an off shoot of reality shows like Indian Idol, Sa Re Ga Ma, Fame Gurukul, Nach Baliye etc -- is lucrative for the channels but, most often than not, an unfair elimination system for the participants, which gives the right to the audience to 'sms' or vote in their favourites.

While audience voting is mainly used as a device to get the viewers involved in a show, it also adds to the drama (especially when the results throw up unexpected exits) and is also a revenue-generating tool (all the tie-ups with cellular phone services help, you see) for the channels.

Besides, while the judges may strictly focus on the 'singing', the audience tends to get emotional about the contestants.

For instance, a contestant who comes from a modest background or maybe from their native village, may receive a lot of audience support compared to somebody who they perceive as one who could easily get another opportunity.

Talking about audience votes, keeping the 'drama' quotient high when a 20-something Sagar Savarkar, an Idol 2 finalist -- widely tipped to be Abhijeet Sawant's successor -- is ousted in the first round itself, weeps inconsolably on national television, it is indeed a 'TRP moment'.

Or for that matter when upset contestants stomp out of a show because somebody else got the majority vote, it's ideal fodder for reality TV.

Speaking of the channel perspective, Nina Jaypuria, vice president, marketing and communication, Sony, says an audience vote is "To give the viewers a chance to select their own representative. At least Indian Idol is for the people, by the people and of the people. Yes, a lot of factors do come into play when the viewers vote.

"For instance, people were voting for Ravinder Ravi of Channel [V] super singer for a long time because he came from a modest background but after some point they didn't see an Idol in him. The judges can be given the sole right to choose the winner but it's something else when your own country chooses you. I don't think only viewers' vote adds to the drama. Even if the judges had to put Sagar out of the show, he would have still wept because that's reality TV."

Shaan, host of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa has a slightly different opinion. "I think the audience vote is not always fair but again, as far as my show is concerned, it's been pretty decent. When it comes to judging a singer, the audience doesn't just hear the voice, to them the way the contestant looks, walks, smiles, talks everything matters while a judge may just go for the voice quality.

"Having said that, the judges too sometimes look for different things and so there could be a disparity there too. All said and done, I still feel letting the audience solely decide on what could be the most important decision of somebody's career is not right."

Ask Nihira who was one of the mentors' favourites and a strong contender for winning the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa contest if she thinks the audience is fair and she says, "Yes, the audience should have a right to vote for their favourite simply because at the end of the day it's they who buy your album. When I entered the contest I was mentally prepared for any outcome. As I look at it, the audience votes can help a show in deciding what kind of a person or winner they are looking for."

However her mentor and music director Ismail Durbar feels that "if a good singer like Nihira can be out of the contest, then Himani's ouster is not surprising. I think the audience also looks to the judges for some direction and if the judges themselves make dishonest decisions, then why blame the audience? I think the audience should decide for themselves and not be swayed by other factors."

Says Varun Badola, "Contestants who find favour with the audience would always want a vote. It's a subjective issue. In a reality show, it's the audi ence vote which deter mines the drama and hence is required. Have your viewers vote, but don't hand over the entire responsibility to them."

So while audience voting does give the viewer a right to choose and a sense of responsibility, it's also important for the viewer to use it sensibly and vote with conscience.

First Published: Jan 23, 2006 15:47 IST