March 31, 2006

“Idol” searches for Latin star

By Leila Cobo

MIAMI (Billboard) - The "American Idol" franchise will go
pan-regional for the first time in its history with the launch
of "Latin American Idol."

The show, set to air this summer, marks the first time the
"Idol" brand, which has 33 versions under its belt, leaves the
confines of a single country in an effort to find a regional

"Latin American Idol" will host auditions in four countries
and will be open to contestants from throughout Mexico and
Central and South America.

Apart from its regional scope, there are no major
differences between this "Idol" and its previous incarnations.
There are no immediate plans to air "Latin American Idol" in
the United States.

The show is a co-production of Sony Entertainment
Television, a subscription cable service that will air the
series throughout Latin America, and FremantleMedia, which also
produces other versions of "Idol." The two companies have
signed a five-year agreement.

"Latin American Idol" will be a separate production from
the Brazilian version of the program, which begins airing April
5 in that country.

"We are looking for a Latin idol to conquer the world,"
says Flavia Da Matta, executive producer of "Latin American

Da Matta is expecting 4,000 people, ages 18-30, to show up
for each audition in Mexico City (April 22-23); Caracas,
Venezuela (April 29-30); Bogota, Colombia (May 5-6); and Buenos
Aires (May 16-17).

Ten finalists will be selected to compete against one
another in studios in Buenos Aires. The winner will receive a
recording contract from Sony BMG.


Speaking during a conference call from Venezuela, SPE
Networks Latin America vice president and co-general manager
Sergio Pizzolante Pizzolante and Da Matta say that the search
for judges has been going on for "four to five months." No
further information was available.

Sources say three to four judges will be selected and that
singer Jon Secada is among those being seriously considered.

Within the industry, there is certainly much curiosity
circling around "Latin American Idol," particularly because of
its geographic scope.

"It's tremendous that people from countries that may not be
so affluent will have the possibility to participate," says
Luana Pagani, Sony BMG senior VP of global marketing, Latin.

Music reality shows are nothing new in the Spanish-speaking
world. In the past five years, literally dozens of reality
programs targeting Hispanics have launched in Spain, Latin
America and the United States. Some, like Spain's "Operacion
Triunfo" and Argentina's "Popstars," have not only been ratings
phenomenons, but have also transformed the recording industry
landscape of their respective countries with strings of
top-selling albums.

But there have also been plenty of flops. In the United
States, Latin music reality shows have neither garnered
impressive ratings nor launched a significant recording artist.
The failures are often blamed on the diversity of the U.S.
Latin audience, and that, some say, could be an obstacle for
"Latin American Idol" as well.

"It's not that easy to do something across Latin America,"
one executive says.

Pizzolante says the blend of local programing with regional
scope makes "Latin American Idol" an ideal show with which to
expand into the region.

"Latin American Idol" will initially air twice per week,
then will increase in frequency during finals.