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Homegrown superstars hold special appeal in Bhutan

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

In Bhutan, television viewers have been glued to their sets for the past four months watching “Druk Superstar,” the local version of “American Idol.” Here, where TV was first introduced in 1999, the viewing diet is rich with Indian soap operas and South Korean music shows, so any home-grown program in the national language, Dzongkha, is embraced with enthusiasm. In particular, “Druk Superstar” featured traditional songs Bhutanese people have always sung.

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By international standards, the look of “Druk Superstar” was modest: The stage was a small platform on the studio floor draped in red carpet, while a flimsy sheet of plastic printed with the show’s name and logo formed the backdrop. There were no designer outfits; rather, everyone was dressed in traditional Bhutanese garb. There are no official ratings, but each week the show received up to 100,000 text-messaging votes from viewers watching at home – in a country of just 750,000 residents.

“People enjoy watching our own people singing traditional songs,” says Kencho Dorji, the program’s producer.

“Entertainment in Bhutan has been dominated by Bollywood and Western music, so we came up with the idea of our own people singing our own songs on television,” he says.

The winner, Ulab Leki, a popular comedian, beat out 27 other contestants.