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Pop culture and us

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IN June 2003, a television programme that would end up changing the face of Malaysian entertainment quietly premiered to zero fanfare.

Arguably the first of its kind, the full force of the craze for homegrown reality television arrived on our shores in the form of Akademi Fantasia, a tweaked version of Mexico’s La Academia.

Malay Mail covered and reviewed the weekly concerts broadcast “live” from the UPM Experimental Theatre.

The thin crowds in the early weeks was apparent with Astro production staff filling seats to ensure cameras did not just pan to empty spaces.

While Malaysians had their fill of talent shows with Bintang RTM being the first to hit the air in 1964, after morphing from radio’s Bintang Radio which was established in 1959, nothing could have prepared them for the Akademi Fantasia phenomenon with its daily voyeuristic shows and weekly concerts, SMS-based public voting and strains of its theme song, Menuju Puncak, before the show finally ended its run
last year.

Thirteen seasons, an all-star finale, and 172 contestants later, Malaysians were transformed into a nation of couch critics and debated techniques of performances as “pitching”, “bubbling”, “hissing” and more became buzzwords as everyone turned into a vocal and performance expert.

Malay Mail monitored the trend meticulously as it was fascinating, to say the least, to see how a single TV programme could arguably have the biggest cultural impact on a nation in such a short period.

By the second season, the show had taken the nation by storm with AF2’s collective and the “tsuMawi” of Season Three which followed, with the nation obsessed with a young man from Johor named Asmawi Ani – the spillover dominated more than
just ratings.

Bona fide musical artistes desperately jostled with overnight superstars who most times commanded much more than more quality acts that had been around longer, and earned more radio airplay with their releases effortlessly.

Corporate folks moved in for a piece of the action for endorsements, and national dailies were giving more attention with the obsession over the TV show and its
by-products.

Every single aspect of the show, and its contestants grabbed headlines, from Mawi’s break-up with his fiancée, and the scandal of a contestant’s topless pics becoming the front page fodder in to the choice of the academy’s principals and locations.

How does this merit a mention in the final print edition of Malay Mail?

Even with the commitment of the paper then to highlight local talents and productions, the buzz generated by the programme pushed Malay Mail into hands of many, to the point that other English publications realised there was no way they could ignore the growing interest in the show, despite previously only focusing on select English-medium talents and products.

The circus that it became was eventually viewed as a degradation of the quality of talents and on a bigger scale, the industry itself, and to some extent, the culture of celebrity that was born did negatively impact the industry.

The term “artis mee segera” or instant noodle artistes, alluding to the quick production of talents that did not satiate the appetite for long was born as a result, and it soon became a negative to admit your career birthed from a reality TV show.

Still, there was no denying that the programme had given birth to many talents who have excelled as award-winning acts – not just as singers and performers, but also songwriters, and actors.

And more importantly, the far-reaching impact transformed the entertainment industry into a more dynamic, competitive field.

Akademi Fantasia was not just a TV show.

It was the turning point of evolution for Malaysia’s entertainment industry, and Malay Mail took notice despite the brickbats levelled at the programme.

Until 1963, radio was the only broadcasting medium in Malaysia and it was not until 1984 that we had our first privately owned television station in TV3.

Malaysians are today spoilt for choice, not just with half a dozen terrestrial, free-to air TV stations, pay TV and dozens of radio offerings, we are also inundated with the countless offerings on the digital platform.

The pop phenomenon that was Akademi Fantasia, was revered, then reviled but as the curtains came down on the show at the end of the all-star showdown in AF Megastar late last year, many quietly rued the end of an era, given that reality TV no longer had the impact to introduce new talents.

Instead, in the digital age, the next viral sensation will be the most sought-after.

Likewise, for the Malay Mail, after today, it’s the dawn of a new era.

Every generation looks back at the past, through rose-coloured lenses to reminisce, but change is inevitable and while some might fear the sweeping changes of the digital takeover, it is important to note that nothing remains stagnant and change
is constant.

And while today marks the final curtain call for the print edition of Malay Mail, bringing along with it the mixed emotions – note that the grand lady, 122 years young will continue to thrive and innovate as we continue to look for the next big thing you should know about.