Arab Idol: It's all 'Smiles' as Mideast Politics Take the Backseat

Published March 6th, 2012 - 15:43 GMT

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Arab Idol debuts 2012.
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Image 1 of 16: Arab Idol makes its debut this 2012, following in the footsteps of Superstar which until this year was the Arab version of American Idol.

Ragheb Alameh on Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Ragheb Alameh: One of the panel of judges, this Lebanese super-star is at home on the show that is hosted in his motherland. Of the two others on the panel, he is the most moderate, keeping his seat firmly 'on the fence'. But he is not the only one speaking the native Lebanese twang, as fellow judge 'Ahlam' likes to have a go at 'Lebanese'.

Ahlam on Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Ahlam: A peer to 2 male judges, this Emirati madam whose name means 'dreams' holds her own. Most controversial of the panel, she's getting attention. From 'faux' accents, rude comments, to 'naff' style, Ahlam has made her share of quotables. Spoofed as 'Kawabees' ('nightmares'), this polarizing panelist promised to be Arabia's Simon Cowell!

Egyptian Hassan al-Shafei on Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Hassan al-Shafei: This young Egyptian heart-throb (and composer) has won the hearts of Arab women since the start. However, his heart is set on contestant & fellow countrywoman "Karmen", making no secret of his inside favorite for the prize. In spite of his hot status, he gives off an icy detached presence that serves as a 'cool' judging style.

Judge trio for Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: The dynamic of the talent board: Popular or not with contestants and audience, the chemistry on the panel creates harmony in the judge deck.The trio shows a chummy united front mostly, with the occasional cheeky banter between Ahlam and Ragheb Alameh (at times scolding). Ragheb, Ahlam and Hassan promised to be fair, strict and very critical.

Abdallah al-Tihi Anabella Hilal in Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: The hostess & host are Lebanese Anabella Hilal & Kuwaiti Abdallah al-Tlihi - the latter maybe starting a trend of Gulf hosts to pan-Arab TV shows? The elegant hostess is studded with Ragheb Alami's wife's designer line in jewelry. She gives the show that Lebanese sugar coating. Her portfolio has modeling & beauty pageantry as well as presenting.

Carmen in Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Carmen: This young wonder is barely a day over 17 but captured the votes of the region with her talent. No newbie to talent contests, she has arrived in the competition circuit. Combined, her age & nationality, as 'revolutionary' Egyptian, have made her a favorite. From the moment of appearance - uncle in tow - to audition, she was a big hit.

Yousef Arafat in Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Yousef Arafat is the Jordanian entry and finalist in the last Four. With his dodgy hair do, he was a bit of a dark horse, but wowed the audience back with his melodic voice. This expat of Kuwait has the vote of 2 countries on his side and is awakening Jordanian pride.

Singer Nadia Manfoukha in Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Nadia Manfoukha: This strong alto-female voice has swept the region with that traditional Syrian singing rasp. Bringing hope to the Syrian struggle, this success story is gripping the competition between Arab players.

Dunya Batma in Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Dunya Batma - the Moroccan ingredient in the show, and another finalist in the last Four. This comes as no surprise, as other singing competitions in the Arab world have also seen 'Maghribi' voices make the final cut.

Tunisian Hasan Kharbash lost Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Hasan Kharbash, now out of the race, was the young Tunisian whose distinctive feature, but also downfall, was his smile. Not one to keep it diplomatic, Ahlam dug into his grinning asset turning a winning smile into a 'loser' grimace. In a controversial and unpopular move, she slated the smile as a 'failing' in this earnest candidate.

Mohammad Taher in Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Singing for Saudi: Mohammad Taher was the only Gulf representative in the draw, just missing the final Four. After a show-down with, again, Ahlam, he took his leave, his pride intact. But not without a parting shot to the cameras at Ahlam's attitude towards 'other' artists. Last night the KSA received him as a national hero at his home airport.

Assad al-Ass'ad tries out in Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Assad al-Ass'ad: Goes by 'Sun' ('Shams') of al-Ass'ad in homage to Najwa Karam's moniker. Shams was an audition candidate we met briefly who left a lasting impression. This Jordanian resident in Kuwait, handed Judge Ragheb his self-portrait with the request that it be passed to Najwa Karam - as well as delivering a home-decorating services plug!

Audition hopefuls for Arab idol
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Image 1 of 16: Another audition hopeful, we recall the Sudanese, Manad Abdu. This hopeful undertook a long journey to make his Arab Idol appearance. However, the struggle that saw him traverse Libya, Tunisia & Jordan, was cut short as the hopeful's quivering voice was too shaky for the judges, who did not let his epic tale sway their 'epic fail' verdict!

An Indian auditions for Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: There was the Indian mega-memorable audition-cast Arab-wannabe. Much like Israel's place in the Eurovision Song contest, his entry begged the obvious 'What's the 'Hindi' doing applying for Arab Idol?' Other hopefuls scoring a 'hit' in our memory files, but a 'miss' in the contest, included a Moroccan comparing herself to Arab legend Um Kulthum.

Saudi contestant leaves Arab Idol
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Image 1 of 16: Much ado about the 'pity' save: Arab drama on the show came from those 'safe' cards: the judge-awarded ticket, or get-out-of-jail, that could spare a candidate, overriding the audience vote. These got the already hot Arab blood boiling with Arab pride, and were refused at least by the Saudi who made his exit rather accept the Judge's charity.

After a much-fan-fared buildup, Arab Idol has well and truly-arrived, with no shortage of drama to add to an ordinarily heated region. The Arabic edition of the notorious talent show, American Idol, shown regionally by MBC, comes as a tweaked Arab 'Superstar' - its predecessor from the Lebanese channel, Future TV.  After Arab Idol's forerunner had ran its course, MBC bought the rights to broadcast the show in a similar format, changing the name to the internationally branded, 'Idol' series.  

Uniting the Arab world from the Arabian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean

Giving us some respite from revolution drama, this entertainment pan-Arab spectacle has stolen the headlines this year, having launched end of 2011.  Much of the newsworthy material generated so far, comes from the celebrity Judge Panel's shananigans. It's not so different from its American original whose success rested on the big characters of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul (incidentally of Syrian origin), now with Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler in the Judge's seat. 

In this first-time Arab Idol judge board, we have Lebanese singer Ragheb Alameh and Gulf singer Ahlam. Ahlam has stirred quite a bit of commotion with her ill-judged comments. The panel is redeemd though as she is nicely balanced out by the cool to level-headed Egyptian charmer Hassan al-Shafei and singing sensation Ragheb's fair approach. Other waves being made by the show surge from the contestants' merits, nationalities and looks. Then there's the dashing judge Shafei who's left the female viewers melting. 

Music and politics?

The Arab revolutions have found their place in the contest, with 2 out of 4 fnalists from countries at various stages of revolt. A Tunisian near finalist was a recent departee. Not before he gave a little shout-out to his dear country: "Tunisia is a country that is small in size and population, but very big in history and character," he proudly told us early on. 

Overdoses of hair gel, as well as of smiles, fetched comments. But did Arabic politics or regional biases feature? Was the turbulent year of Arab uprisings an issue for the Judges or Arab viewers? Did Syrians get a sympathy vote and did Tunisians earn an extra round of applause?

Pan-Arab talent contests, like any other international, entertainment TV show, are when politics are supposed to take a backseat to the showcased Arab talent. Even the Arab revolution could not loosen the gripping nature of this hit-show. Nor did regional politics disrupt the harmony and fair-play witnessed.

Regional prejudice or bickering could be expected to feature in a pan-Arab show that brings together the often disunited Arab front.  With its mixed bag of elements  (the GCC, the Levant, Mesopotmia, North Africa) one could expect to see the farcical show-down that takes place between European states in the Eurovision contest – which for years now has hardly been a secret stage for more than a spot of politically rigged,  mutual back-scratching regional alliances. This is the time where the UK sidles up to Ireland. The Balkan states keep it Balkan. The former Soviet Union reaches out to its ex-satellite states. Greece sticks to its Macedonian corner.

Still, lucky for the Arab people, this forum dredged up no such sympathies, positive or negative. It was predicted that voting would go along regional lines. Saudi Arabia would triumph by its wide-Gulf affiliation, pocketing all the Gulf votes. Not so, we learned as the Saudi contestant dropped out. Would there be revolution favorites? Again, not really as there were no Yemenis, and the Tunisian fell from grace. Still, an Egyptian and a Syrian contestant have made it into the final Four.

After the heady feeling left over from 2011 of  Arab revolutionary achievement, was soon replaced by a more disappointing reality, we’re sure the Arabs could do with a pick-me-up. Here is Arab Idol.

We invite you to comment on your favorite contestants or sexiest judges! Who do you think will be the region's first Arab Idol, 2012?

 

 

 

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