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As millions of Americans sit on the edge of their sofas tonight to find out whether Jordin Sparks or Blake Lewis will be crowned the next "American Idol," many Israelis will have to hold off a few more days.
This year, for the first time in the show's six year run, American Idol was bought for prime time Israeli television. The finale will be broadcast on Channel 3, commercial free and with subtitles, on Friday night, and repeated on Saturday night so Idol-loving Shabbat observers need not feel left out.
"The show receives very high ratings on both screenings," said Hila Shafir, spokesperson for HOT. Channel 3 is also carried by YES, Israel's satellite network. "American Idol is extremely popular around the world, and also in Israel, so we wanted to bring the program to the Israeli people."
But for some Israelis, it took too long for Israel's cable networks to get with the program, so to speak, and they began to watch it on Star World, an Asian channel, carried this year only by HOT. Star World has hosted the show since season three (Fantasia Barrino's year) and broadcasts it with a day's delay.
Hanna Kaypuya, the founder of the American Idol internet forum on Tapuz, a popular Israeli internet portal, first discovered the show on Star World and has been hooked ever since. She started the forum "because there wasn't anyone in Israel to talk about it with." Kaypuya has noticed a hike in interest in the forum this year, and some 200 registered members now share predictions, compare favorites and post links relating to the show. As moderator, she enforces a strict policy against spoilers.
Anat Tamir, 28, a human resource professional who lives in Tel Aviv, had been a lone fan of the show for three years, but now she regularly discusses the outcomes with friends. "I feel less special now. I liked to be the only one who watched it."
If the Tapuz forum can be a fair touchstone of Israeli taste, then Melinda Doolittle was the clear Israeli favorite. "The final three were all favorites in the forum," Kaypuya says, adding that they also liked the quirky Sanjaya Malakar, who is now a household name for his widely-publicized, unexpected staying power...and his unusual hairdos.
Of Doolittle's elimination, Kaypuya says that "most people were shocked and upset. Surprisingly, some were shocked yet satisfied. One person blamed Simon [Cowell], because Simon said he wanted Melinda in the finale, and America loves to annoy Simon - look what they did with Sanjaya." The beloved Malakar was panned for his lack of singing ability by Cowell, but fans kept him on the show for weeks on end.
IN ADDITION to Web forums, Erev Tov with Guy Pines, Israel's leading television entertainment show, sums up Idol events every week, contributing to the show's popularity. Israel Zohar, a senior correspondent for Pines, attributes the popularity of American Idol in Israel in part to Israelis' love for singing competitions.
"[American Idol] is good television. From the auditions, which are funnily edited, through the elimination stages through the finals. The songs are good, and of course, there's Simon Cowell, one of the funniest and most sarcastic guys around. Every time I cover the show, I use at least one of his quotes."
Israel's version of American Idol, "Kochav Nolad," ("A Star is Born"), kicked off its fifth season this past Friday. Like American Idol, the show is a leading platform for breakthrough stars, like Ninet Tayeb, Shiri Maimon, and Harel Skaat, who all enjoy prolific careers in entertainment thanks to the program.
Kaypuya prefers American Idol over Kochav Nolad for its professionalism; its emphasis on voice quality rather than looks; and Simon, whose bluntness is unmatched among the Kochav Nolad judges.
Tamir agrees. "[Kochav Nolad] messes with your mind. They think it's not nice to eliminate people, so they bring them back. Beside I like Simon. He's amazing."
DeDe Komisar, a grant writer and stage actress who made aliya to Jerusalem in September, actually discovered the show in Israel, not in America. She felt "peer pressure" to watch it while rehearsing for a play in Jerusalem. Her fellow cast members, all American, kept talking about the show during rehearsals.
"I guess in the US there's so much other stuff on TV, and I had an aversion to mainstream, American pop stuff. I was only into indie stuff, but here it was - a way to connect to America, and American Idol is beyond huge."
Komisar doesn't define herself as "obsessed," but admits that she has visited American Idol blogs and particularly likes the "Vote for the Worst" website. For Passover her parents gave her, as an afikoman gift, the DVD of the "Best and Worst of American Idol."
But now that Melinda, her favorite, has been voted off, the show has lost its enchantment. "I'm so pissed that Melinda got sent home! She could mop the floor with the other two! I'm disillusioned with the show and it's lost the magic for me at this point."