As Dibesh Pokharel aka Arthur Gunn made history by becoming the first Nepali-origin singer to reach the finals—and end up as the first runner-up—of the American Idol franchise’s 18th edition, Nepali social media was full of praises for the 22-year-old. Musicians, actors, entertainers, media personalities and common people alike devoted their social media posts to the young singer originally from Kathmandu who moved to Kansas, US five years ago.
Not that Pokharel’s journey in the American Idol had gone unnoticed by thousands of his fans around the world. He had caught the eyes of Nepali audiences right from the auditions held in February this year, when he impressed the judges with his unique vocal texture and performance skills. As he continued dishing out best performances week after week, his fan following grew to more than just Nepalis. By the time of the finale, Pokharel had become among the favorite contestants of people around the world.
Performing the renditions of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” and Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want To Be” for the finale, Pokharel lost the coveted title to former subway singer Just Sam from New York. In the unprecedented times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the reality show this year had changed its format and started telecasting from the homes of the top 20 contestants, making this season the most challenging in American Idol history.
The burden was also on his fans in Nepal to vote for him. As the American Idol website did not allow voting from Nepal, Nepali fans had to resort to using VPNs to vote for Pokharel. But this did not stop the dedicated ones from making sure Pokharel passed through every episode with the highest votes. Social media posts on how to download the VPN and trick the website made rounds in the Nepali user circuit to ensure that there would be no dearth of voters for the ‘Nepali boy’.
A Facebook group named “Arthur Gunn (Debesh Pokharel) OFFICIAL Fan Club” emerged in February with the purpose of campaigning for Pokharel. By now it has more than 56,000 members comprising not only Nepalis but fans from around the world, now all celebrating his victory.
“You have won for me. I’m sorry this one was stolen from you. Not fair but America knows this one was yours! You’ll make it so far my friend. Can’t wait to go to your concerts!” an American fan writes on the Facebook group.
Biswaz Gurung, a resident of Michigan, US is one of the seven admins of the Facebook group. A fan of Pokharel for his ‘simplicity and unique voice’, Gurung dismisses conspiracy theories Pokharel’s fans have come up with—the most insidious one being that he couldn’t come first due to his race. “We definitely feel bad. We wanted him to win. But we have to accept the results and be proud that he became a runner up,” Gurung says. “We need to learn to accept the verdict of the fans.”
APEX’s very own columnist Jackie Taylor was one of the ardent supporters of Pokharel from the beginning. Her favorites made it to the top two. “I’m just happy Just Sam came first and Arthur came second,” she says. “Just Sam is an amazing busker and I like Arthur for his voice and the whole bluegrass thing and for the obvious fact that he’s a Nepali.”
Musician and media person Abhishek Mishra, who had interviewed Pokharel for his “Rock Show” on YouTube before he went to American Idol, is also all praise for the singer. “The guy can sing at the drop of a hat. He has no stage fright at all,” Mishra recalls watching him perform live. “He is generally soulful and soft spoken in person but lets himself loose on the stage.”
With so much support from musicians and non-musicians alike, Pokharel promises to be different from the previous reality show contestants of Nepali origin whom the people supported just because of their nationality. Pokharel is not only a singer but also a songwriter who has recorded original material and mixed and mastered most of them himself. The hope for his Nepali as well as non-Nepali fans is that he will justify the enormous support they have heaped on him.