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“It’s not for the elite or upper class.” “Googoosh Music Academy,” a competition show featuring music doyenne Googoosh guiding aspiring Persian-pop crooners, has been a runaway hit and completed its second season last year.

Googoosh, essentially the Barbra Streisand of Iran, made her name as a singer and actress in the Shah-era 1960s and 1970s, and now performs and lives outside the country.

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Female contestants do not cover their hair and tend to wear clothes that are more revealing than those allowed in the Islamic Republic, where women must wear headscarves and loose clothing in public.

“It’s a window into a culture we could have if we were freely part of the global popular culture,” said Mehdi Semati, an expert on Iranian media and culture at Northern Illinois University.

In the process, it has also irked Iran’s Islamic government.

“Manoto is closer to us than other channels culturally, and their shows are more fun,” said Mohamad, 25, of Esfahan, who answered questions over the Internet.

Iranian music star Googoosh (R) performs on stage with guitarist Babak Saeedi during the season finale of "Googoosh Music Academy," a music competition show on Persian-language entertainment channel Manoto 1, in London in this handout taken November 2011.

Launched in 2010, family-owned satellite channel Manoto 1’s programming has struck a chord inside Iran and gained what is likely to be millions of fans since launching in 2010, though it is periodically jammed by Iran’s Islamic government.

They and other Marjan TV officials declined to comment for this story despite repeated requests for interviews.

The Abbassis do not do interviews “in light of the sensitive nature of the current Iranian media environment,” said Maryam Meddin, managing director of Clarus Design, the network’s media agency.

“Knowing there’s a world outside where Iranians act like us, talk like us, and think like us, but live a life that is free of constraints - people compare themselves, and that’s worrisome for the government.” At the conference, citing data from Manoto, Khoshroo said about half a million people inside Iran contacted the channel in its first week. Manoto is partly funded by corporate sponsorships and has been sponsored in the past by companies that sell consumer products inside Iran, including Samsung and LG, according to Marjan TV’s website and Clarus Design’s Meddin.

Manoto’s funding also comes from venture capitalists, according to a 2011 report on human rights and information access in Iran by the Foreign Policy Centre, a UK-based independent think tank.

Though satellite channels can be accessed worldwide, experts believe the vast majority of the viewership for Persian-language channels is inside Iran.

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