TV Reality Show Hit 'Afghan Star' Made Into Documentary

"American Idol" meets "Afghan Star" with bigger threat than Simon Cowell.

June 20, 2009 — -- It's been called the "American Idol" of Afghanistan. Now, millions of people are watching "Afghan Star" on television sets banned just a decade ago.

Viewers vote for their favorite singers by cellphone. For many in Afghanistan, this has been their first taste of democracy.

With numbers taped to their chests, 2,000 Afghans lined up to compete on "Afghan Star." That's an extraordinary sight in a country where under the Taliban, music has been forbidden.

Jahid Mohseni is the executive producer of the "Afghan Star" television program.

"I guess fundamentally people are the same. We just happen to be in the part of the world that's been on radio silence effectively for a long period of time," he said.

Legions of Afghan men turned out to perform. But so did the women.

As this documentary team follows the season, one contestant, Setara, begins to emerge.

On this night, she does something unexpected.

Not only does she sing, but she begins to dance, and it riled viewers everywhere.

One man on the street said, "She should die."

"I was shocked by the reaction to Setara and what happened to her in the show," said Havana Marking, the director of "Afghan Star."

"When she danced and when her headscarf slipped, it was an electric moment, and you knew this was a very powerful kind of historic moment for this time and place."

Setara's family has been worried about the threats made against her after her performance.

Many have shed tears for the unlikely trailblazer in a country hungry for music and culture to return but unsure how quickly it should.

"We've always had a history of music, and the show has allowed it to creep back in and then shine back into the cultural spotlight," executive producer Mohseni said.

The 87-minute documentary, "Afghan Star," will be released in select cities including a Q&A with the Filmmaker Havana Marking in New York on Friday, June 26.

In the meantime, you can visit their Web site for more information.