If you’re living in the Arab world, it’s not just the culture, the ruins (Petra, Baalbak, old cobbled cities) or deluge of news you should be soaking up, but popular culture more, now more pervasive than ever before. And Arab Revolutions do not stop the gossip mill spinning, especially from reality TV. Take this hit pan-Arab televised talent show, Star Academy - constantly the subject of hype and drama – which in every series since its inception in 2003 has caused a stir and rich supply of gossip. Try this latest entertainment story to come out of our 'reality' TV screens: predicted winner was once a conservative muhajebee girl.
On the 8th series now in full swing, we have a constestant, Oumayma Taleb, whose past 'other' life has now come to light: The Arab audience has seized on this story that has all the elements of religiosity, determination, scandal and sensationalism that pique the news crazed appetite.
We've heard of the ‘burkini’ (to incorporate hood and full-length swim-wear) innovation in swimwear for the devout Muslim- a portmanteau of 'burqa' and 'bikini', now we have a curious breakdown of this fun-word, with a girl who went from donning the head veil one day, to prancing round in a bikini on air to the whole Arab Nation. Jeckyl and Hyde, indeed. What do her family make of her antics or fickle fame-hungry sellout of her traditions and culture?
In her favor, on camera, she has kept her unveiled head down and focused on the business at hand and seems determined to make her mark and maybe win. She is a favorite for the prize. She certainly seems to have the guts and conviction that drove her to shed her former skin in the name of taking her chances on her talent. At the cost of gossip and bad rap for her Muslim family and community. On, and off, the show, Oumayma Taleb is from Tunisia. She is 20 yearsold, 1.80 meters tall, weighing in at a slick 55kg, and likes staying fit and stylish, and recently stole some time in the modelling industry before breaking into the Star Academy spotlgiht.
Her character on the show is as a hardworking but fun student who is honest and beautifully voiced, devoted to her pursuit of stardom and renown. This is the face of the Tunisian student Oumayma Taleb. But behind the scenes and previous to screen appearance she used to wear a veil, only chosing to take it off to fulfill her goal of participating on Star Academy - not exactly a safe haven for Hijabi or conservative girls. With its singing, dancing and frolicking about in this mixed-sex house of aspiring celebs- exhibitionism is the minimum qualifier for candidacy. And as the show runs its course over 8 seasons, so too the stakes are raised to keep the public watching (especially in an Arab world saturated with action and stories contending for the spotlight.)
Well, what helps her steady rise to fame cause is that backed by hard work, she is always game for fun and sponteniety – popular inside and outside the house. She hasn’t been nominated since the show started, instead conciensciously advancing as she hones her singing and acting skills, which earnt her the ‘number 1 spot among the top 5 students 2 weeks ago, and she remained in the top 4 last week.’ She is also currently one of the favorites for a place in the finals, if not for the title- fans predict. Watch this space on Star Academy, and other exposes unveiled by Al Bawaba.