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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 July, 2004, 02:21 GMT 03:21 UK
Vietnam unsettled by 'Pop Idol' contest
By Quynh Le
BBC Vietnamese service

Logo for Sao Mai - Diem Hen (Morning Star - A Destination) programme
Morning Star - A Destination is offering three finalists an album deal
Vietnam's first Pop Idol-style competition was launched last weekend, and has already unsettled viewers and the authorities.

One judge has been berated for making harsh comments, and the programme's makers, National Television, have been rebuked by the Ministry of Culture for selecting judges without "sufficient political or professional merits".

The show, named Sao Mai - Diem Hen (Morning Star - A Destination) is not Vietnam's first televised singing contest.

However, in past programmes, the results were always decided by a panel of judges, and few winners became major stars.

Vietnam National Television (VTV) hopes that the format change will win more attention for the contest.

Popular vote

As in the UK and US versions, 12 contestants will perform live over 10 weeks in front of a four-judge panel, who offer a critique but do not decide who has to go home. The audience gets to vote for the winner by text message.

The organisers have invited specialists from GMM Grammy, a leading Thai entertainment company, to help the contestants with make-up and professional training.

Three finalists will get an album contract.

Nguyen Hai, from Dong Tay Promotion which co-organises the show, says the winning contestants will have real crack at stardom.

"The contestants will get signed with VTV, while our company will help with the management side of things as part of the promotion strategy."

There were some positive press reviews after the show aired on Saturday, but the local press published a number of complaints from journalists and viewers who thought some of the judges' remarks were too rough to bear.

One of the judges, poet Do Trung Quan, was singled out for telling a contestant that she was outrageous.

He was also attacked for telling a contestant that she had a "too strict dress code".

Culture shock

It could be argued that Do Trung Quan has simply taken on the role performed by Simon Cowell, famous for his sarcastic and sometimes cruel comments in the UK and US versions of Pop Idol.

But that kind of attitude has come as a shock for many Vietnamese.

The vice-minister of culture sent a letter to VTV, saying the ministry had received numerous complaints from viewers about the judges' style.

According to the letter, the judges' comments deviated from the ruling Communist Party's principles of "building and developing Vietnam's culture into an advanced culture imbued with national identities".

Asking the VTV to criticise the judges, the ministry suggested that in future episodes, the panel should "include members who have sufficient political and professional merits", and that a "proper working code be practised in order to avoid similar mistakes".

With nine episodes to come, it remains to be seen whether this Pop Idol-style show can win over the government and the Vietnamese audience.

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