'Idol' Flame Still Burning Bright Overseas

MBC
120 million viewers watched Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf win the second season of 'Arab Idol.'

The final season of Fox's 'American Idol' wraps tonight, but the hit singing show is still on air and drawing audiences, from Nepal to the Netherlands.

It will be the end of an era when American Idol finishes its 15th season tonight on Fox.

But fans worried about Idol withdrawal can take solace in the fact that the singing competition format is going strong — outside the U.S.

According to FremantleMedia, which produces and licenses Idol worldwide, there are 17 local versions of the series still out there.

Idol's global footprint ranges from Nepal and Vietnam to Norway and the Netherlands. The majority use some version of the Idol brand for their title — there is an Arab Idol, an Angola Idol, a Nepal Idol, etc. The Dutch and South African shows are simply called Idols. But a handful of international spinoffs have opted for completely different handles. In France, Idol is called Nouvelle Star (New Star). In Germany, it's the mouthful Deutschland Sucht Den Superstar (Germany's Looking for the Superstar), or DSDS for short.

Like American Idol, many of these series are on their last legs. The current season of DSDS, it's 13th, is drawing close to 3 million viewers, a fraction of the 15 million that watched at the show's peak. Most expect that it won't return after this year.

But elsewhere, Idol is still a new and growing phenomenon. Arab Idol, the pan-Arabic version of the show, which airs on satellite network MBC, is the biggest program in the region. A staggering 120 million viewers tuned in to watch Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf win the 2013 edition. Assaf's rise from refugee to global Arabic-language pop star was later the subject of Hany Abu-Assad's 2015 film The Idol.

The fourth season of Arab Idol returns late this year, and MBC spokesman Mazen Hayek argues the show's success "is equal if not bigger" than that of its American counterpart.

Simon Fuller created the original version of the talent contest — then called Pop Idol — for British network ITV in 2001. But the British show only ran for two seasons. It was put on the shelf after judge Simon Cowell announced he was leaving to launch his own competition format, The X Factor. But Pop Idol was around long enough to launch the singing career of Will Young, who has enjoyed four U.K. No. 1 albums and sold an estimated 8 million disks worldwide.

Young is one of the few international Idol winners to have cross-border sales success, though many global winners saw their debut albums top their charts at home. Some have established lasting carriers, including Australia's Guy Sebastian, Germany's Mark Medlock and Kurt Nilsen of Norway, who beat out Will Young and American Idol's Kelly Clarkson to win the one-off World Idol competition in 2004, which featured winners from 11 international Idol shows competing against one another.

Fans of American Idol currently outside the country can catch tonight's final on their local broadcaster. The final will be broadcast in 143 territories, including on Youku in China, Mnet in South Africa, Check and Yes TV in Canada, Viacom 18 in India and 4Music in the U.K.

 

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