Judge and ye shall be judged

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The competence and fairness of reality show judges have been called into question recently, but their personal lives, mistakes and scandals are apparently more publicity fodder than anything else

Whether it is Buoc nhay hoan vu (Dancing with the stars) or Than tuong am nhac (Vietnam Idol), the show's stars and idols are often its judges, with their theatrics stage-managed or otherwise making the show more "interesting."

The stentorian laughter of singer Siu Black or the sharp-tongued comments of director Le Hoang, a la Simon Cowell, keep the audience riveted. However, they are attached to the show not only because they like the judges, but also because they are averse to some of them.

Kim Phuong, a-50-year-old housewife, said she does not like the remarks made by director Le Hoang and Nguyen Quang Dung in Buoc nhay hoan vu. Phuong felt it was strange that Hoang and Dung, film directors, are judging dance contests instead of more accomplished dancers.

"Sometimes I am completely dissatisfied with their comments because they are so one-sided and subjective, especially considering they themselves cannot dance or sing. Watching public figures marking [contestant's performances] is interesting, but I think the producers should choose judges whose professions are related to the contest's concept," she said.

Le Hoang disagreed.

"In addition to knowledge, the judge has to be humorous and comfortable. Right or wrong comments are not the issue, but whether he or she can stir up the crowd. There are many proficient experts who are not invited to judge any contest because they do not express themselves well," he said.

Hoang and Dung also said that sometimes the show's producers asked them to agitate the contestants, giving the latter scope to express and defend their ego and pride.

Scandals tantalize

Vietnamese reality shows also attract their fair share of scandals. Vietnam Idol's judge of three seasons, Siu Black, faced similar charges recently.

Physically handicapped contestant Nguyen Son Lam, 28, charged that Siu Black displayed a "defaming and insulting attitude" and discriminated against him during an audition in Hanoi last month.

Siu Black told the Vnexpress.net e-newspaper and other publications that she was surprised by Lam's reaction.

"After his performance, I just hugged him and said "˜If in a show for the handicapped, you want to sing for everybody, you will succeed.' I do not think it was defamatory, just heartfelt sharing."

According to the show's organizers, the judges' decision to eliminate Lam was "fair and rational" and the problem between Siu Black and Son Lam was just "an emotional issue."

Before the organizers spoke out on the issue, "Siu Black" and "Son Lam" were, for a while, the two most searched key words on Vietnamese websites.

In fact, the The Thao Van Hoa (Sport and Culture) newspaper speculated that scandal could be part of a PR campaign by the BHD Company. It noted that the producers had not made the audition tape public despite the controversy.

But BHD said they cannot release any recording until the first episode of the show was aired on August 21 because of copyright rules in their contract with Fremantle (global entertainment firm).

Conflict of interest

Before Siu Black's scandal, national dance teacher Khanh Thi, a judge in the Buoc nhay hoan vu contest, was accused of being an "insider" for model turned actress Ngo Thanh Van, a contestant who went on to win the show.

Thi recently attended the opening of Van's VAA company and hired it as a consultant and manager for boosting her image and facilitating her entry into the showbiz world.

The collaboration happened just a few days before the contest's final night last June.

Thi asserted that her deal with the company played no part in her judgment. She also saw no conflict of interest. "It is normal when I want to enter showbiz that I need a representative company to help me," she told the Dat Viet newspaper. The "queen of dance" plans to expand her career as a fashion designer, singer and actress.

For now, the controversies and scandals surrounding Vietnam's reality television shows are proving one adage right any publicity is good publicity.

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