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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Indian Voices for American show

This year’s American Idol had Indian-origin contestants Gurpreet Singh Sarin and Shubha Vedula enjoy their moment in the sun.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Published: April 7, 2013 12:12:40 am

This year’s American Idol had Indian-origin contestants Gurpreet Singh Sarin and Shubha Vedula enjoy their moment in the sun.

Gurpreet Singh Sarin had all eyes on him the moment he walked onto the sets of American Idol Season 12. Wearing a full beard of a Sikh and a lavender turban,he presented a soulful rendition of Sunday morning by American 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 reality show became culturally compelling in its own way — social networking websites overflowed with monikers such as “Turbanator” and even “Osama”. “I didn’t find the nickname annoying. I knew that ignorance would be a factor and many people wouldn’t know anything about my religion and culture. However,I was focused on moving forward in the competition and didn’t spend much time on the hate messages. Many people said that they previously misjudged me but had changed their opinion once they saw my audition,” says Sarin,who had a host of Indo-American Sikhs come together in his support.

He was eliminated in March after reaching the Top 40 of the show (being telecast on Big CBS Love in India),which is being judged by Mariah Carey,Randy Jackson,Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban this year. “I believe that 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 gurudwaras. “My family has a jatha (group) called Raag Rattan Jatha and we perform shabad kirtan 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 the guitar,violin,and mandolin. Music keeps my family together,” he says.

His tryst with Western music — blues,jazz,soul — began only two years ago. Soon,he had found a popular platform — in his case,Potbelly Sandwich Shop in Gaithersburg. Sarin’s last song on the show was James Morrison’s Nothing ever hurt like you,which prompted Urban to label himself “Keith Turban”,but could not impress the judges. “A vital component 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.

‘My mother encouraged us to listen to all kinds of music,so I never forgot about my Indian roots’

Many viewers of American Idol were sure that Shubha Vedula would come out on top. The 17-year-old from a 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 judge’s 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 on top.

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