A new reality TV program, “Star Academy,” in which female and male Arab teenagers live together for a talent contest is proving a big hit among the young in the Middle East, despite sharp criticism from conservative circles.
The show, a copy of a French program of the same name and launched last month by the private Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI), groups 16 young people selected from around the Arab world.
Aired on a 24-hour channel carried on Arabsat, it is a first for the region, where private lives are taboo subjects and sexual segregation remains the norm.
Each week, one of the candidates is voted out following training sessions in singing, acting and dance choreography.
The stardom-seeking candidates come from Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and are housed in a villa in Adma, in the hills northeast of Beirut.
According to the Stat-Ipsos statistics institute, the ratings of Star Academy have reached 80 percent among Lebanese viewers aged between 15 and 25 years old.
A study is still underway for ratings in the Arab world but results are expected to be as high, given the tens of thousands of votes received via email or mobile phone messages from various Arab states, according to the organizers.
Last Friday’s episode was a real thriller, with Lebanese fans flocking to welcome visiting candidates from the French Star Academy, Sophia and Patxi.
“It is great to be welcomed in such a way and to know that we are so popular on the other side of the Mediterranean,” said French-Basque Patxi, as security forces fought to keep the fans away.
But the popularity of the show does not please everyone in Lebanon and the Arab world.
“It is indecent to make young Arabs, girls and boys, live together. The devil may be there,” said Muslim sheikh, Samir Zeeni.
And political analyst Khaldun Solh said such programs were “not so innocent.”
“They are meant to keep Arab youth away from national causes at a time that Iraq is occupied by imperialism and when Palestine continues to bleed,” he said.
In October, Muslim radicals in Kuwait tried to block a concert for young Arab musicians selected by Lebanon’s Future Television, which is owned by Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Islamists in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon have also demonstrated against parliamentarian Bahia Hariri, the billionaire prime minister’s sister, for organizing a concert of winners of the Arab Superstar television program.
The highly-popular program was won by Diana Karazon, a Jordanian who was congratulated for her success by the country’s monarch.
But many youngsters in Lebanon shrug off the criticism.
“Is it wrong to watch young people sing, dance and get to know each other?” wondered 16-year-old Elsa.
“I used to think that all young Arabs from the Gulf were fundamentalists. I realized that they are like us. They are open to the world but it is forbidden for them to express themselves at home,” she said.
Note: For more info and photos check: For Photos on BNL or http://www.staracademylbc.com