By Tom Coghlan in Kabul
Police ringed the building and the guests were screened for suicide bombs before they could enter.
As Afghanistan's version of Pop Idol reached its climax last night, the streets of Kabul were deserted, extra police were deployed and government officials were praying that the country's electricity grid would prevail.
Afghan Star, shown by Afghanistan's leading independent television channel Tolo TV, has been routinely attracting 90 per cent of Afghanistan's potential television audience, around 11 million viewers.
And as in the British version, both the best and the worst received their three minutes of fame as some 2,000 contestants were reduced to a single winner.
Most chose to sing traditional Afghan ballads, while big lapels and tight trousers appeared to be de rigeur among the slick-haired contestants.
With Afghan society struggling to assimilate the conflicting pull of its traditional Islamic conservatism and Western liberalism, Afghan Star courted controversy even before a female contestant reached the last three.
Lema Sahar, an 18-year-old from the ultra-conservative Pashtun south of the country, received death threats because her veil slipped to her shoulders as she sang.
The wounds of Afghanistan's brutal inter-ethnic civil war of the 1990s are still close to the surface, and the final pitched an ethnic Tajik against a member of the historically downtrodden Hazara minority.
Despite widespread belief that the Hazara, Hamid Sakhizada, possessed the sweeter voice, it was the Tajik, Rafi Nabzada, who was the surprise winner of a vote conducted by text message.
As the credits rolled the two young men embraced in a gesture of solidarity.
"Among the younger generation, what matters is talent," insisted Khair Mohammad, 20, afterwards, even though he was a supporter of the loser.
"Ethnicity is no longer important."
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