As much as the term “unprecedented” is overused during a pandemic, it is the closest word to describing the finale of long-running music competition, American Idol . Usually hosted in a studio space to roaring audiences and star judges in attendance, finalist Dibesh Pokharel, aka Arthur Gunn, was standing in his tasteful back porch on Sunday, as host Ryan Seacrest was about to announce season 18’s winner.
On the other side of the splitscreen was Just Sam, the R&B/pop crooner moniker of Harlem contestant Samantha Diaz. Seacrest sat in a studio, opened an envelope to announce Just Sam as the winner, and the last glimpse we get of Gunn is his family – four sisters, his mother and dad – walking over to celebrate his second place finish. Before the finale aired, the Nepali-origin singer said over the phone from Wichita, “My approach to this was, as an artiste, musician and singer, there are many platforms out there and this was one I should try out. I was just trying to experiment what it would be like to be a part of this.”
As is the case with most American Idol finalists, their journey into music stardom has often just begun regardless of whether they win the grand prize or not. Finalists such as Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, Katherine McPhee and Chris Daughtry are still widely known for their music, sometimes overshadowing the actual winners.
The 22-year-old probably knows this, which is why the fans he’s accrued in the US, Nepal and India are a big deal. After all, Gunn – born and raised in Kathmandu and having immigrated with his family to the US about six years ago – released his Nepali language album, Grahan, in 2018 and has close to 2.8 lakh subscribers on YouTube. Post- Idol , these fans have bumped his channel’s total views up to over 14 million. Songs like ‘Nyano Ghar’ have over five million views on YouTube and two lakh plays on Spotify, but as is the case with Idol contestants, their covers are what get them a following. When Gunn and his backstory were highlighted early in the competition, he found new fans.
Gunn’s earthy, quivering and vulnerable vocals are best heard on Grahan but shined bright on ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’ (by Creedence Clearwater Revival), ‘Girl from the North Country’ (Bob Dylan) and even Bon Iver’s ‘Hey, Ma’ wowing star judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. He’s quick to realise this time is crucial, which is why he has already put up a snippet of his new song ‘Love is my Redemption’ on YouTube. “So far, I’ve been hearing from a lot of people in India and Nepal and all over the world. It feels really motivating, and gives me that positive energy that I can do this,” he concludes.
American Idol Season 18 airs in India Monday to Friday at 9 pm on Star World, with repeats every Saturday and Sunday at 11.30 am.