JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN —
On South Sudan's answer to U.S. televised music talent search "American Idol," the judges can be just as tough on contestants as their American counterparts.
Take judge Lam Tungwar. He didn't mince words with Paul Abraham when the budding artist finished his performance of “Pretty Girl" for "Talent Search," as the show kicked off its second season in South Sudan.
“Mr. Abraham, you sing 'Pretty Girl,' you have to be smiling and assuming she's just looking at you among the crowd. That’s number 1," Tungwar told the pop star wannabe.
"Number 2: you are not controlling the instruments…the sound is louder than you are,” he said.
Abraham was one of 21 finalists selected from more than 200 people around South Sudan who auditioned for "Talent Search."
For the next 12 weeks, he and the other finalists will perform live at Juba's Nyakuron cultural center, with their musical interpretations broadcast on television around the country.
Three contestants will be chosen for elimination each week by the judges, but viewers will be able to save one of the performers earmarked for the chop by sending a mobile phone text message to a specified number.
In the end, just one contestant will be left. He or she will go home with 15,000 South Sudan pounds and a recording contract.
Evans Mandeah, the executive secretary of the South Sudan Artist’s Association, which organizes the competition, said although the music scene in South Sudan is still in its infancy, artists and impresarios hope that competitions like "Talent Search" will help to boost opportunities for budding artists.
"The music industry in South Sudan is not well paying and one of the reasons is because there is no opportunity which is available for young artists to at least have their talent nurtured, trained and also sell their product in a way that they can be able to make resources out of their talent,” he said.
Most of this year’s "Talent Search" competitors will be given a chance to record at least two of their own songs after the competition ends, he said.
The performers also inspire others, like audience member James Dean, to try their luck as a pop star.
“When you come here and see what other people are doing, it will give you that morale so next time you can do it -- like, next time, maybe I can show my talent," he said.
Dean said he plans to come back every week to watch the contestants give it their best shot in the competition until the field is whittled down to one, lucky, and talented winner.