Simon, Paula, Randy – meet Abby.

Last Wednesday, Abby (and I) were on Albanian television, for the semi-finals of Albania’s answer to American Idol, “Academy of Stars”. In this program, 24 students are selected and divided into two teams, and they go head to head in a variety of dance performances or songs, depending on each student’s discipline. At the end of each program, viewers text in their favorites for each match-up, and the loser is eliminated. The quality of the performances varies – some of the kids actually could give David Archuleta a run for his money, while others will probably never get further than a karaoke bar.

The theme of last week’s show was “American night” – songs sung by Aretha Franklin, Anastacia, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Tina Turner, and Evanescence (as it happened). The show’s producers asked the Embassy’s Public Affairs Office to provide someone for the judges’ panel – the judges are generally instructors or professional critics, with one guest brought in each week – and the office director in turn suggested Abby.

We had enough time to watch the show the week before, so we had a vague idea of how it worked. Even despite it being a low-budget and somewhat silly show (during our night, for example, they performed a 10-minute version of “High School Musical”, complete with canned musical and video backup), we enjoyed it, and we came in with our favorites already in mind. After the singing part of the competition, Abby gave her comments – in Albanian, which impressed everyone – and then after the show, she gave some very diplomatic interviews about how the show compares to the American version. We’re even going to the finals tonight, to see how “our” contestants fare.