Nouvelle Star pretty much is the French version of the Idol franchise: There are regional auditions, the remaining 15 candidates are progressively winnowed down, and there's a jury—made up of four, not three people, and including the divine Marianne James (with the big frizzy hair). But unlike American Idol, Nouvelle Star is more open to genuine oddballs, loves radically transformed covers, and offers addictive group sings with various combinations of contestants. On the other hand, the contestants are overall younger and less experienced than in the US; they tend to be less show-offy and less likely to have been formatted by years of kiddie performances, which also means they're more like real amateurs, in the original sense of the words.
The show recently selected its winner, Julien, who was my fave from the very beginning—I happened to be in France during the regional rounds and immediately noticed the scrawny dude playing the ukulele at the Marseille audition. Fortunately the Nouvelle Star site features plenty of excerpts, and I lovingly selected a handful for you, dear readers.
Among the highlights is this group cover of Indochine's brilliant 1985 single "3ème Sexe," which was made into a regular video and thus provides a good intro to the strongest candidates. That the overall mood is very pop need not be stressed, but note also that the sartorial style is much improved from American Idol. Winner Julien is the shaggy one who looks like he escaped from Williamsburg.
And now Gaétane, among of the last three standing, performs Britney Spears' "Toxic." Of all the candidates she had one of the best commands of English. English pronunciation usually is a disaster for us Frenchies, whereas candidates in the Scandinavian or Dutch Idol shows tend to be fluent.
More Britney with winner Julien, a 25-year-old art-school grad from Arles who goes for yaourt (yogurt English, ie speaking as if your mouth is full of potatoes) on his Ani DiFranco–style reading of "Baby One More Time." Technically it's off the map, but I find this cover perversely addictive.
Gaétane and Julie duet on Elli Medeiros' "Toi Mon Toit" while Julien and finalist Tigane play furniture. Does Gaétane look really annoyed by Tigane's antics?
Julien and Tigane (a 19-year-old student from Versailles) look soulfully into each others' eyes while dueting on Tété's "A la faveur de l'automne." The song is from two years ago—Nouvelle Star, unlike Idol, embraces current hits.
Group effort on a faithful cover of "Cherchez le garçon," a 1980 cult hit by Taxi Girl, the Parisian new-wave band that spawned Daniel Darc and Mirwais (later to produce Madonna). Note that Julien is wearing his trademark barrette.
And finally a great cover of a great song: Katerine's freak 2006 hit "Louxor j'adore," where Julien shines again.