American Idol has grown in popularity in the United States as Pop Idol did in the United Kingdom. However, it seems as though nobody has noted the overwhelming success of Spain's version of the program, Operacion Triunfo.

Operacion Triunfo made its debut in October of 2001 in TV1. The success that followed this premiere is almost impossible to believe.

Operacion Triunfo began with 16 contestants:
Naim Thomas
Nuria Fergo
David Bustamante
David Bisbal
Manu Tenorio

I don't know why half of them were referred to by their full names and half by just their first names. The two Davids became known only as Bisbal and Busta by the end of the program. It's just the way the audiences responded to the show, I guess.

Calling Operacion Triunfo a fad in Spain is an understatement. It became a way of life. You couldn't walk down a street without hearing their single "Mi Musica Es Tu Voz." Children sing it on the playground. Old women sing it at the bus stops. When we took a trip to Barcelona, we even heard it in the Museum of Erotica! At its peak, Operacion Triunfo attracted 65% of the Spanish television audience every Monday night.

The prize for Triunfo was a recording contract for the six finalists and for the winner, the chance to represent the country in the Eurovision song festival. The eventual winner was Rosa Lopez of Granada, who came in 7th place at Eurovision with her single "Europe's Living a Celebration." The other five finalists, in the order of their votes were: David Bisbal, David Bustamante, Chenoa, Manu Tenorio and Veronica. All have since released albums as well as every other person from the program. David Bisbal's first CD, Corazon Latino, broke records it Spain. It sold more copies in its first week than any other CD in Spain. It even outsold the country's pride and joy, Alejandro Sanz. No one can accuse him of being a one hit wonder, either... He's already had four number one hits (if you discount the hit singles from the TV program).

This obsession with the program is referred to as "Triunfomania." Every market has shirts of the stars availible. Buses through Sevilla ran pictures of Manu to gain votes for their hometown hero during the show's final week. A new CD flew to number 1 after each gala as well as numerous DVDs, books and videos. A film about the program is going to be released at the end of the year.

Triunfomania has migrated from Spain. Versions have popped up in Mexico and Ecuador among other countries. The original Spanish version is transmitted to Latin America by satellite and they have grown to love the stars as well. When the first round of solo tours around Spain ends, "los profesores" will travel to the other side of the pond to promote in the Caribbean, South America and Mexico.

The talent on the program was absolutely amazing. Spain has created at least four new stars in Rosa, Manu, Bisbal and Bustamante. These singers will now head out into the rest of the world and make them proud. Let's hope Operacion Triunfo 2002 gives us even half the talent 2001 did.

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