Martina 'shattering the stereotype' (picture Nova TV)
The success of Romany contestants in the Czech version of Pop Idol has been marred by racism as the contest nears its final, Czech newspapers say.
Martina Balogova, a 25-year-old Romany whose powerful performances won over millions of Czech hearts, reached the final five but was ousted from the contest on Sunday evening.
Her progress almost to the peak of "Czechs seek a Superstar" brought praise from the press, who saw her also having to fight a battle against ingrained prejudice.
"Martina Balogova has now shattered the stereotype. And it would seem that a great number of racists dislike that," exclaimed the newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes.
"Her great voice, spontaneity and self-confidence have broken through the long-standing ghetto of prejudice. All this in front of millions of viewers, on live TV and repeatedly."
Radio Prague said a record three million viewers now sit down every Sunday to watch Superstar on the commercial station Nova TV. It is a "hugely popular show... Contestants like Martina Balogova... have become household names." The final of the show is due to be aired on the last weekend of June.
Pravo daily was saddened by her departure from the show.
"Out of the EU's post communist newcomers, the Czech Republic - along with Slovenia - seems to be causing least trouble. Still - did anyone in this country actually believe that the Superstar contest would be won by a girl who - without a shadow of a doubt - most deserved to win but who is a Romany?
"Let us hope that she will get the chance to cultivate her talent in the future and not just in a contest where not quality but subconscious feelings of sympathy and antipathy were clearly the decisive factor.
"This case illustrates one of our weaknesses and there is no point in trying to cover it up."
'Shame of the town'
Ms Balogova won her journey to the final five with hits like Cabaret and Those Were the Days.
But she and other non-white would-be Superstars, some with Romany, Angolan or Syrian parents, told the press of the sniping racism they endured during the contest from voting viewers.
Marta Balazova, a contestant ousted from the last 40, told Lidove Noviny she was hurt by an article published in her local newspaper, Nove Bruntalsko.
She said the article called her said "the shame of the town Bruntal" and said "people were surprised she reached the final 40 because she was a Gypsy".
Ms Balazova said she believed Ms Balogova would not win the contest despite being the best of the last 10: "She's got the same problem, she's a Romany."
Ivana Husakova, 16, another Romany who got through to the last 40 was told by her parents not to harbour any false illusions of success.
"My parents told me I would never win anyway, because I am a Romany," she told Lidove Noviny.
On the programme's web site chat room, viewers can talk to the contestants but the Romany candidates often find themselves fielding questions their ethnic background.
Q: "What is it like to be a Gypsy?"
Balogova: "What is it like to be a Czech?"
Q: "You will not win because you are a Gypsy, what do you say to that?"
Balogova: "I won't mind at all, people must be able to lose, life is not just about winning."
Since a jury of four music industry professionals whittled down the hopefuls from 40 to 10, the show's viewers have taken over and vote for their favourites each week by SMS text messages.
Mlada fronta Dnes said the fact that Romanies such as Ms Balogova and Samer Issa, who has Syrian parents, did so well in the contest could be a sign that Czech society is now more tolerant.
"Some contestants taking part in Superstar are saying that they could not win it because they are Romanies. Balogova's success contradicts this, but hidden or open racism is still present in our country," the paper concludes.
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.