Yawning Bread. 17 December 2007

Hady did Singapore proud, part 2




Nobody, I think it's fair to say, expected Hady Mirza to clinch the Asian Idol award, but now that he has, I think I can see why.

Yes. I rated his performance as one of the two best in my earlier essay, but I didn't expect many to agree with me. Yet, he won and I think this bears some explanation, which I will attempt here.

Before going into the analyses, we need to face the first question: Was the decision arrived at by summing up the absolute number of votes received, or were the votes re-weighted by percentage with all countries treated equally?

I believe the definitive answer is that it was based on percentage, but it seems most viewers (including myself) thought it would be on absolute number of votes. That being the case, these could be the possible reasons for the final result. Of course, the reasons are not mutually exclusive.

1. High intensity of voting compensated for small population

Picture from 'Today'

It would be interesting if the organisers would release data about how many sms votes were received in each country, but I doubt if they would. Also, as far as I know, only viewers in the six participating countries could vote; it wasn't open to viewers in, say, Thailand, Bangladesh or Cambodia, so it's not as if there were millions more unbiased voters in the contest. It was precisely this demographic reality that made it so daunting for Hady. There are 1 billion people in India, over 200 million in Indonesia and just 4 million in Singapore, and naturally, people tend to vote for their own representative in any contest.

That said, they had to make a second vote for the first vote to count, but one might have thought the second vote would be distributed widely across other countries' participants. It still would not compensate for Singapore's disadvantage in the first vote, would it?

Perhaps Singaporeans voted with unusual intensity, compensating for their small headcounts by voting through sms repeatedly. If so, it is more likely to be because of economic reasons than because we are more fanatic about supporting our representative. In Singapore it cost 60 cents to submit an sms vote. If it was costlier (relative to purchasing power) in the other 5 countries, it might have inhibited viewers there from voting as frequently as Singaporeans. Unfortunately, I don't know how much it cost in the other 5 countries to send in a vote.

But even so, would 4 million Singaporeans vote frequently enough to compensate for, say, 50 million middle-class Indians?

2. People actually thought Hady was good

Well, I for one did, but I noticed that generally the judges didn't think so. I would have assumed that the vast majority of viewers shared the judges' opinions rather than mine. In the earlier essay, I said that I personally disliked the big full-throttle style -- what a comment to that essay called "diva" singing. That's a good description. I don't want to be assaulted by power, I want to be charmed by originality and style.

Perhaps millions across the 6 countries agreed with me instead of the judges?

3. They voted for looks

It's a known fact that in such contests, looks count for a lot. Also, fans of these contests would be more female than male, so male participants have an advantage and good-looking guys even more so.

On this consideration, it would be down to Abhijeet Sawant from India and Hady Mirza from Singapore. Abhijeet may be better looking but it might have hurt him when during the performance show, it was revealed that he was just married. Giving up on him, swooning girls might have thrown their lot in with Hady in droves.

4. Race and language

Being Malay with Indonesian roots and choosing to sing one of his songs in Malay -- a beautiful song, written by Singapore's other Idol winner, Taufilk Batisah, no less -- was a very big advantage. It must have wooed millions of Indonesians and Malaysians in a way no Chinese representative from Singapore can, certainly not if he chose a Chinese number for a second song.

Malaysia's Jaclyn Victor too sang a Malay song, but put yourself in the shoes of a young female Indonesian viewer deciding on the choice of a second vote after patriotically voting for Mike Mohede: Would you identify more with Hady or with Jaclyn? I don't think it's hard to imagine how the chips would fall.

There's a political point to be made from this: Minorities add value to Singapore.

5. Tactical voting

This is the most fascinating possibility. However, this explanation only applies if the result came out of absolute votes, or viewers thought it would come out of absolute number of votes.

It's like this: Imagine you're Indian or Indonesian, countries with big populations and whose national champions stand a good chance of winning the title of Asian Idol. After having voted for your national favourite with your first vote, what can you do with your second vote to still help your national favourite? You don't want your second vote to help some other contestant overtake your first choice. If you're Indian, you would not want to give your second vote to the Indonesian contestant. And vice versa. The best tactic would be to ensure that your second vote goes to someone with no chance of overtaking your national champion -- and that would be little Singapore's representative.

As often is the case, such gaming makes sense at an individual level, but when millions do the same thing, it upsets everybody else's calculations. No-hoper Hady suddenly gets a tsunami of votes.

(That's why the People's Action Party is afraid of true democracy, perhaps? What they usually call "freak results"?)

Here again, there is a political point to be made, two in fact: People in developing countries can be very canny about using democracy. And secondly, it was our non-threatening little size that made Singapore acceptable for the additional vote.

So it seems Hady's victory is a lot more significant than just entertainment. But don't get me wrong: Despite the above analysis, I do think he earned every bit of it. 

* * * * *

However, if the votes were based on percentages from each country and people mostly knew it, then reasons 1 and 5 would not have counted for much. Reasons 2, 3 and 4 would have been the ones giving him the victory. People would have voted for singing quality, stagework, looks and affinity. And they were in their right to do so. 

Here he is below. The first time, watch the video. The second time, close your eyes, listen to him as if he were a recording artist...



Congratulations to Hady.

Yawning Bread 


Six countries -- India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam -- were represented at the first Asian Idol contest held on 15/16 December 2007 in Jakarta.

Viewers could vote via sms but had to pick two favourites, instead of one as is usual in Idol contests.



  1. Youtube videos of other contestants can be found here