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Indian Voices for American Idol

This year,the show allowed two Indian-origin contestants to enjoy their moment in the sun.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Published: April 6, 2013 3:27:23 am

This year,the show allowed two Indian-origin contestants to enjoy their moment in the sun.

‘American Idol opened doors for Sikhs around the world’

Gurpreet Singh Sarin had all eyes on him the moment he walked on to the sets of American Idol Season 12. Wearing a full beard of a Sikh and a colourful turban,he presented a soulful rendition of Sunday morning by the US rock band Maroon 5. His voice and appearance grabbed the attention not only of the judges and his fellow contestants,but the whole of the US.

In subsequent episodes,as Sarin turned up in colourful turbans and belted out well-known pop songs,the show became culturally compelling in its own way — social networking websites overflowed with monikers such as “Turbanator” and “Osama” as Indo-American Sikhs came together in Sarin’s support. He was eliminated in March after reaching the Top 40 of the show (being telecast on Big CBS Love),which is being judged by Mariah Carey,Randy Jackson,Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban this year.

“Being on the show opened doors for the Sikhs around the world. One of my main goals was to prove to people that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Music is universal and we should get rid of the stereotype,” says the 22-year-old,a Computer and Information Science student at the University of Maryland.

Sarin grew up in Georgia,in a family associated with gurmat sangeet (Punjabi hymns) at the local gurdwaras. “My family has a jatha (group) called Raag Rattan Jatha and we perform shabad at the gurdwaras. My father plays the sitar,my mother sings,my sister plays dilruba and sings,and my brother plays the flute and tabla. I mainly play the tabla,but also enjoy playing guitar,violin,and mandolin. Music keeps my family together,” he says.

His tryst with Western music — blues,jazz,folk,soul — began only two years ago. Soon,he had found a popular platform for budding musicians — a restaurant; in his case,Potbelly Sandwich Shop at Gaithersburg’s Rio Center.

Sarin’s last song on the show was James Morrison’s Nothing ever hurt like you,which prompted Urban to label himself “Keith Turban”,could not impress the judges. “A vital component of American Idol is song choice. I could have chosen a better song,” says Sarin,who,post the show,has received several offers to perform across the US.

‘I never forgot about my Indian roots. I still sing Hindi and Telugu songs’

Many viewers of American Idol were sure that Shubha Vedula would come out on top. The 17-year-old from Mount Pleasant School in Michigan had presented a powerful rendition of Christina Aguilera’s Can’t hold us down and the judges were sold. Instead,she crashed out in the Top 20 in March after her presentation of Lady Gaga’s Born this way was called “confusing” by the show’s judge and American rapper Nicki Minaj. But,Vedula had made her mark.

“It’s difficult coming from a small town (Mt Pleasant) and trying to make yourself and your music known. When something like American Idol happens,you are seen by millions of people who might just be looking for someone like you. It’s just a nice way for me to say I’m here,” says Vedula,whose performance of Mariah Carey’s When you believe had the singer singing along. “I was so afraid of not doing justice to the song,but watching her (Carey) appreciate it moved me to tears,” she says.

Born to physician parents in New York,Vedula spent most of her childhood in Michigan. Growing up in a South Indian family,she learnt music by default. “My mother encouraged us to listen to all kinds of music,so I never forgot about my Indian roots. I still sing Hindi and Telugu songs,” says Vedula,whose inclination towards Western music happened after she got her first karaoke machine at seven. “I used to be obsessed with Britney Spears. Now,I love Beyonce,Whitney Houston,Mariah Carey … the list goes on,” says Vedula.

How is she handling the disappointment of her exit? “It’s difficult to know what my song’s impact was because what the judges described as “confusion”,America described as “artistry”. I have learned from both perspectives and have understood that it might just have been a little too early for a performance like that. If I had to go back to that time,I would probably choose a ballad that I felt connected to,because it seemed like that was the kind of performance the judges were looking for that particular night,” says Vedula. She is planning to return to the show next year,too and,this time,she’s determined to come out tops.

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