Middle East's version of "American Idol" unites Iraq?
American Idol unites the nation? I can't imagine it. But the Middle Eastern version of the show, called "Star Academy," has brought a lot of people in Iraq together. The show, broadcast from Lebanon, featured contestants from several nearby nations. The Iraqi contestant, Shada Hassoun, won on the finale last week, beating out the other finalists from Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia.

For months, fans in Iraq have been following the show in hopes of Hassoun winning. In Baghdad, people were spending large percentage of their monthly wages on the costly text votes, and whole neighborhoods kept generators running after hours in order to watch more of the American Idol-like show's finale, despite electricity shortages.

Interestingly, Shada Hassoun's fans across Iraq don't even know whether she is Sunni or Shiite, considering her a perfect representative of Iraq either way. While she's actually from Morocco, and so is her mother, her father's Iraqi heritage is what determines her nationality, as is traditional in the Middle East. In fact, Shada herself has never even been to Iraq, so how can her win have such an impact?  

A spokesman for the Iraqi Prime Minister says that "of course" the leader doesn't watch the show, but that perhaps it represented "a positive message for the people," which is why Star Academy gets more public support than the Prime Minister does. An anchor on Iraq's al-Sharqiya network says Shada represents freedom, as she is "doing all the things that all the Iraqi girls cannot do now: singing, dancing, being free." She doesn't wear the hijab, went to school in Paris, and loves Antonio Banderas.

While she did win, due to Iraq's obsession with her, Shada didn't exactly shine the whole time, forgetting her lyrics sometimes and arguing with her competitors – and just like American Idol, the Star Academy show featured lots of off-stage drama from the contestants, which in Shada's case included complaining that her nose is "too pointy" and crying because Iraqis were too busy worrying about the war to think about her and the competition.

"If the country didn't have problems and we had a normal life, no one would vote for her," said one Baghdad resident.

-Mel, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

Sources: ABC, CNN, Ya Libnan