Reality TV grips Spain

2002-03-12 13:54
Madrid - Not long ago, Rosa Lopez mostly sang in the shower.

On Monday, she became Spain's hottest new talent.

After five months of music and dance classes in front of record-breaking audiences on a new kind of reality TV show based on the movie Fame, she was chosen to represent her country in May at the Eurovision song festival, Europe's premier pop song contest.

As the sparkly eyed 21-year-old with an overbite sang Europe's Living a Celebration, the studio audience of Operacion Triunfo (Operation Triumph) went wild, screaming "Rosa! Rosa! Rosa!" and calls poured by millions to the switchboard.

Even after losing 27 kilograms (60 pounds) during the show, Lopez didn't have Britney Spears' body, but that didn't matter.

"Be careful, I'm heavy!" Lopez screamed as fellow contestants hoisted her in a victory dance.

Operacion Triunfo is the most popular TV show to hit Spain. Bigger than Big Brother, it mesmerised the nation almost daily.

Last month's semi-final was watched by 12.9 million of the nation's 40 million inhabitants. Only Valencia soccer team's European Champions Cup final against Bayern Munich in May 2001 scored higher, with 13.8 million.

Operacion Triunfo's success has been so huge, the show is about to burst Spain's borders.

Deals have been struck with broadcasters in seven countries - Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia and Venezuela - while interest in staging the show has come from another 50 countries, including the United States, producers say.

The format is simple. Sixteen candidates chosen from 7 000 auditioners enter a music and dance school and are assigned a new song to perform each week.

Cameras roll as they stumble through voice classes, despair in rehearsals, agonise over pronunciation of English lyrics, confront fears and cry over failures.

But viewers also get to see smiles and laughter as the contestants gradually improve, and the ultimate weekly triumph before massive audiences of mostly young viewers - who send SMS messages with questions for their favourite singers.

To a certain extent, the show mimics Big Brother - pioneered by Dutch company Endemol, which has a majority stake in Operacion Triunfo's production company, Gestmusic of Barcelona.

But what distinguished the Spanish show was not what was shown, but what was not.

In Operacion Triunfo, there were none of the sleazy romances, petty squabbles, toilet visits and endless blabber of Big Brother's participants.

The contestants were only shown during classes, rehearsals, performances and breaks so that their public images would remain pristine enough for stardom.

Last Month, co-producer Josep Maria Mainat told a group of university students that Big Brother's "content is cruel. The public intervenes relentlessly, gets its kicks eliminating people, breaking up couples, getting disgusted."

"We wanted to create something more positive," said Mainat, who was formerly known best for singing in a comedy duo with co-producer Toni Cruz.

In the early 1970s, dozens of their songs were banned by Spain's former dictator, Gen. Francisco Franco, who was obsessed with modesty. His TV and film censors used to black out kisses, women's busts and even the naked torsos of male athletes.

Operacion Triunfo's clean reality format made superstars not only of Lopez, who has already been signed by one of Spain's biggest record companies, but also of the other two finalists - former construction worker David Bustamante, who previously sang to charm girlfriends, and gardening centre employee David Bisbal.

But fame didn't stop there. Most of 16 original competitors have got record contracts, made music videos and gained huge groupie followings with hundreds of thousands of new Operacion Triunfo CD's - released after each week's show - selling like hot cakes.

On the net:

  • Operacion Triunfo - Sapa-AP
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