Lebanese superstar Nancy Ajram gets candid about motherhood, plastic surgery and spreading goodwill ahead of her Dubai gig tomorrow. Could acting be her next move?
She is one of the best-selling artists in the Arab world, her Facebook page is the top subscribed for an Arab artist, and she has been named one of the most influential personalities in the Middle East by Oprah Winfrey. So it is no surprise that people from everywhere in the world know who Nancy Ajram is. Ask any non-Arabic speaking expat in the UAE if they know of any Arab singers, and chances are they'll say "Nancy Ajram". After all, she is everywhere — in magazines, on television and her pictures are sprawled across numerous billboards and adverts in the region. Not bad for a girl who is just 28.
Now, the singer is back in the UAE to perform at Madinat Arena tomorrow.
Ajram, who divides her time between Dubai and Beirut when not working, tells tabloid! she can't wait to perform in Dubai.
"I love performing in the UAE because people have a great appreciation for all types of music, and know what they're listening to. It is always fun being in Dubai — I consider the city my second home."
And if you want to catch the singer in Dubai when she's not working, chances are you'll find her in The Dubai Mall.
"I love to go to The Dubai Mall — it's great, and there's a lot of stuff to do there. I absolutely love shopping."
While Ajram may come across as an overnight sensation, it actually took years of hard work for her to get to where she is today. Born in Achrafieh in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, Ajram began performing as a child and, at the age of 12, she took part in a reality television show, Noujoum Al Moustakbal (Stars of the Future). She won a gold medal in the Tarab category after performing a song by the legendary Umm Kulthum — judges were impressed with how a young girl could pull off such difficult songs.
With the support of her father, Nabil, Ajram continued to perform, releasing her first studio album, Mihtagalak (I Need You), at the age of 15. Her second album, Sheel Oyoonak Anni (Take Your Eyes Off Me), followed in the year 2000, although neither achieved much success.
Her professional career changed for the better upon meeting producer Jiji Lamara. The duo recorded her smash hit Akhasmak Ah, and the music video was directed by none other than Nadine Labaki. Her third album, Yasalam, catapulted her into the Arab world, and the album sold thousands of copies.
In 2004, she released her second best-seller Ah w Noss (Ah and a Half), which spawned the singles, Ah w Noss, Lawn Ouyounak (The Colour Of Your Eyes) and Inta Eih (Who Do You Think You Are), and by 2007, Ajram had become the third best-selling female artist in Lebanese history, selling over 30 million albums.
Her fifth studio album, Bitfakar Fi Eih (What Are You Thinking Of), was released in 2008, and won Ajram her first World Music Award as Bestselling Middle Eastern Artist, the youngest Arab WMA winner to date.
Her album, 7 (her seventh overall as she has also released one record featuring children's songs), was released last year, and sold over a million units in the first month of its release.
Like Lady Gaga, Ajram has a huge fan following online, and her official Facebook page is the most subscribed Arabic artist page, becoming the first ever to reach one million subscribers. Meanwhile, her music video for Fi Hagat (There are Things) — the first single off 7 — became the most watched Arabic music video on YouTube, with more than 20 million views.
Not surprisingly, companies are bending over backwards for her to promote their products, but she is very picky about who she works with, saying: "I do receive a lot of offers from different companies to be their brand ambassador; however, I choose only the brands that suit my image."
Ajram became the first celebrity from the Arab world to promote Coca-Cola in the Middle East. And during the summer of 2010, the brand nominated her to collaborate with K'naan to produce the Arabic version of the international hit and song for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, Wavin' Flag. Shaggaa Be Alamak (Cheer For Your Team) became one of the top downloaded tracks of the summer.
Meanwhile, Ajram is still the face of jewellery brand Damas and its collection Farfasha, a project she's more than happy to talk about.
"Damas is a very important and well-known brand not only in the Middle East but also internationally. This is not the first time I have worked with them. I am very happy and excited to create new ads and commercials with them for the new Farfasha collection. I find that Farfasha suits me very well since it reflects the spirit of youth and love and happiness," she says.
"I like all the collection, but most of all I like the set I wear in the ad with the falcon. It is nice and classy. That is from the Mora Mora collection."
Ajram also reveals that there is a project in the works with car manufacturer Nissan.
"I have finished shooting all the ads for Damas, so my next campaign will involve launching the new Nissan Micra, which I am very excited about."
But that's not all. Ajram also dedicates a percentage of her time towards good causes, and is a Goodwill Ambassador for Unicef.
"I am a Unicef ambassador for the Mena region, and I am working on several projects to spread awareness about literacy, education and health programmes in the Arab world, especially in Lebanon."
It's hard to believe that the 28-year-old has time for all of these projects, but what's amazing is that Ajram pulls this off while being a mother to two young girls.
The singer got married in 2008, and now has two girls, Mila (who was born in 2009), and Ella (born in April this year). She does admit that it can get difficult,
"Well, it's not easy to have kids and work like I do, but I organise my time very well to give each one of them their rights," she says. "They only travel with me when I am going away for a while, but during one or two-day trips, they stay with their father and grandmother."
Having been voted one of the Arab world's most beautiful mothers, Ajram admits that it takes work to stay in shape, saying: "I work out and do various exercises. In addition to that, I eat healthy food and that's the most important thing."
Refreshingly, the singer is one of few Arab celebrities that has been open about plastic surgery.
In the past, Ajram has spoken of the few procedures she has done including on her cheeks, nose and lips (Google "old photos Nancy Ajram" to see the difference), and when it comes to her girls, she does not see the problem with them going under the knife either, simply stating: "If they find that they need it, then why not? Provided that it's not too exaggerated."
Singing for kids
In the meantime, Ajram will continue to juggle her career with motherhood, and is set to release her second album of children's songs "at the end of 2011 or early 2012".
She adds: "I love singing for kids because first of all I love children and I feel close to them. That's why after the first album succeeded well, I decided to record a second one."
The singer is set to celebrate New Year's Eve in Qatar this year with a concert in Doha.
With her phenomenal success, the only projects left for Ajram to take on are in acting and presenting, but the singer is not interested in those at the moment.
"Well, I am not thinking about acting now. It's a long-term project and I am not ready for it yet."
And would she want to become a judge on a show like X Factor? "Not really!" she says.
Well, guess Simon Cowell won't be giving her a call any time soon then.
By Rachel McArthur