Thursday, June 3, 2010

Showbiz: Journey to AF8

Malaysia’s number one reality talent show took fans by storm eight years ago. Today it is struggling to stay relevant, writes DENNIS CHUA

A PRODUCTION of Astro, reality talent show Akademi Fantasia (AF) has its genesis in La Academia (The Academy), a Mexican production of TV Azteca which debuted in 2002 and is still going strong.

Created by producers Francel Diaz Lenero and Daniel Ortiz, La Academia was franchised to the United States (La Academia USA), Malaysia (AF), Thailand (Academy Fantasia) and Indonesia (Akademi Fantasi).

AF became an overnight phenomenon when Astro Ria televised its first season in 2003 because it gave Malaysians their first taste of “TV democracy”.

It empowered them — they fully decided the winner by Short Messaging Service (SMS).

Isolated from the world in a secret “academy”, 12 students divided evenly between the sexes learnt daily lessons from professionals in show business. The instructors were headed by producer Datuk Freddie Fernandez as the show’s first principal.

The students’ daily lives — drama, conflicts and all — were televised in half-hour “diaries” every day which culminated in a weekly Saturday concert at Petaling Jaya Civic Centre.

The concerts hosted by zany Aznil Nawawi always ended with the students performing a choreographed dance to a catchy theme song. This was Menuju Puncak, the creation of composer Aubrey Suwito.

The student with the lowest SMS votes was given a mobile suitcase to drag out of the concert hall, amidst tearful goodbyes to fellow contestants and instructors.

Kuala Lumpur’s Vince Chong won AF1 and subsequently embarked on a singing, acting, songwriting and composing career. Producer Ramli MS, AF1’s harsh guest judge, played a bigger role in AF2 the following year as principal, and his no-nonsense approach earned him a legion of fans. Ramli was principal for two seasons — he returned for the less popular AF6 in 2008 — but his work in AF2 set the benchmark for subsequent principals.

AF2, the most popular season with 15 million votes cast, is best remembered for its graduates’ “longevity”. It also marked the arrival of contestants from Sabah and Sarawak.

Its champion, Ahmad Zahid Baharuddin of Teluk Intan, Perak, is a regular on television as a singer, actor and host, while second runner-up Adam Mat Saman of Kota Kinabalu has achieved greater success as KRU’s most bankable artiste.

Fifth-placed Yusrizan “Bob” Yusof of Limbang, Sarawak is an acclaimed singer of ballads and Asli music who led Malaysia to victory in the World Championship Of Performing Arts in Hollywood last year.

AF3, with musical “sifu” M. Nasir as principal, saw the emergence of “pop phenomenon” and “SMS king” Asmawi “Mawi” Ani from Kulai, Johor.

The nasyid and Asli music fan whose votes never dropped below 50 per cent won loyalists with his pious image and manly voice, despite being seen as overrated.

The season dubbed “The Mawi Show” for its winner’s larger-than-life persona, introduced a prelude concert and increased the contestants to 14.

It was one of three 14-student seasons, the others being AF6 which was won by Sabahan Stacy Anam and AF7 which was won by Sarawakian Hafiz Suip, both post-Mawi market favourites.

The fourth season with “Papa Rock” Ramli Sarip as principal saw a return to 12 students and was the last to have a prelude concert. It also marked a drastic drop in SMS votes and viewership, due to “Mawi-mania”, World Cup 2006 and the end of voting by Brunei viewers.

Winner Faizal Ramly of Terengganu was largely forgotten after a year, no thanks to “winning in Mawi’s shadow”. He makes occasional film and television appearances and most recently supported AF8 champion Shahir Zawawi.

AF5 saw a record 16 students and was a year of “firsts”.

It introduced three permanent judges — actress Fauziah “Ogy” Ahmad Daud, rocker Hattan and singer-actress Fauziah Latiff, and had the latter’s fellow Malaysian Idol judge Roslan Aziz as principal.

It crowned the first female champion, Penang-born Mila Jirin, and introduced the most successful graduate, award-winning singer, composer and lyricist Aizat Amdan. Hailed as the new “prince of pop”, Raub-born Aizat is the AF graduate who toppled Mawi’s five-year reign as the show’s most popular brand.

It also saw former DJ Zana Hanizan of Terengganu withdraw at the 11th hour due to “personal problems”.

Roslan’s “re-engineering” of Menuju Puncak drew flak from fans, and he restored the original version after three concerts.

Award-winning Aznil called it a day after AF5 and was succeeded by his fellow comedian AC Mizal. He co-hosted the next two seasons with spunky Sarimah Ibrahim.

AF6 was a “promotion” for Sabah’s contestants who monopolised the runner-up spot since AF2.

Stacy Anam, then 17, became Sabah’s first AF champion and the contest’s youngest.

However, it was also an all-time low for Sabah contestants — the undisputed majority — because she was the state’s only representative.

AF6 also raised the upper age limit of contestants from 29 to 45 and saw 44-year-old grandmother Hairina Halim enter the race.

Ogy, who gained a reputation as the “lioness” amongst judges, was this time joined by the “lion” among them, Adlin Aman Ramlie, and award-winning singer Ning Baizura.

Adlin, a former guest judge, returned in AF7 with veteran singer Datuk Khadijah Ibrahim and composer Edrie Hashim. In AF8, Aznil and Ning joined him.

AF7 marked the arrival of a female principal, award-winning producer Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina, who co-starred with Adlin, AC and Nasir in Puteri Gunung Ledang.

No-nonsense Tiara made slight changes to the show by having the Menuju Puncak dance at the concert’s beginning. The production also saw participation from well-known recording artiste Nas Adila Mohamad Dan.

Hafiz Suip, then 19, became the youngest man to win the contest.

The recently concluded AF8 marked the return of 12 contestants and an additional “results show” on Sunday which drew flak from viewers for being “long-winded”.

Sarimah took over hosting duties from AC and her partner was Astro personality Jimmy Shanley, who proved less-than-popular with viewers.

Despite having a record four female contestants from Sabah who impressed the judges, only one made it to the finals. Crowd favourite Adira Suhaimi was set to become the second Sabahan champion, but wildcard Shahir from principal Norman Abdul Halim’s hometown Kampar, Perak thwarted her.

The wildcard process, AF Masuk, was used four times in AF history — in the second, fourth, seventh and eighth seasons. Its beneficiaries prior to Shahir — AF2’s Linda Nanuwil, AF4’s Lotter Edin and AF7’s Aril Pilus — all finished second.

While votes have been steadily dropping since AF4, and fan clubs hardly existent in AF8 (which had 3.8 million votes cast, the lowest ever), Astro has seen a steady increase in sponsorship for the programme.

Astro came up with an AF magazine, Aksi, in AF5 while AF7 and AF8 saw health tonic Brand’s become a major sponsor, giving the contest a tagline Generasi Hebat.

The latest season also saw KRU chip in to swiftly produce a compilation album for the contestants. Norman’s brother Edry Abdul Halim created songs for each of them, and it was launched shortly after the finals.

The Civic Centre hosted weekly concerts for the first six seasons, before Putra Stadium, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, took over.

The stadium has also been the venue of the finals, sans AF1 and AF3.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails