IT’S JUST 20 MINUTES TO SHOWTIME. The studio is a hive of activity: at one end makeup artists attend to the drooping quiffs of the handful of middle-aged men sitting behind a semi-circular desk. They are the judges. At the other, stagehands pull at the lighting rig to make sure it is all directed squarely at the stage. On either side sit the contestants, nervously fidgeting as they await their turn, for on live television there is no room for mistakes.
It could be anywhere in the world, such has been the reach of the cultural juggernaut that is the Idol-era television singing competition, complete with its studio audiences and token harsh judge, strobe lighting and legions of fans. And here too in the once-reclusive Bhutan, the format is hugely popular. Its homegrown talent show is called Druk Superstar—in the local language Dzongkha, Druk is the word for Bhutan—and has everyone glued to their television sets for six hours each weekend—three on Saturday and three on Sunday—for close to five months.
The set is modest by international standards: the stage is on a raised platform draped in red carpet and a flimsy sheet of plastic is printed with the show’s name and logo, as well as the thunder dragon emblem that is one of Bhutan’s national symbols, against a bright blue background. There are no flashy designer outfits; rather, everyone is in traditional Bhutanese garb—the gho for men, kira for women. Audience members sit, primly and quietly, on plastic garden seats, arranged into rows.