Singing his praises

Pales­tinian singer Ya­coub Sha­heen is the new Arab Idol, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of com­pa­tri­ate Mo­hammed As­saf. re­caps the ac­tion from the fi­nale

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page -

Once again, a young Pales­tinian singer has won the re­gion’s favourite re­al­i­tytele­vi­sion tal­ent show.

Ya­coub Sha­heen from Beth­le­hem tri­umphed in the grand fi­nal of Arab Idol’s fourth sea­son on Saturday, beat­ing fel­low Pales­tinian Ameer Dan­dan and Yemeni Am­mar Mo­hammed Alazaki.

Just as they did in 2013, when Mo­hammed As­saf from Gaza was named the win­ner of sea­son two, Pales­tini­ans took to the streets to cel­e­brate the vic­tory of their com­pa­triot. Thou­sands watched the live episode on a large screen in Beth­le­hem’s Na­tiv­ity Square, wav­ing Pales­tinian flags and singing along with Sha­heen.

His vic­tory was not a sur­prise as he started the fi­nal as the firm favourite. The judges had heaped praise on his per­for­mances week af­ter week, and he quickly built a fol­low­ing on so­cial me­dia that praised his fine singing voice and good looks. Nick­named “Al As­marani”, Sha­heen was of­ten likened by fans to the late Egyp­tian singer and teen heart-throb, Ab­del Halim Hafez.

Born and raised in Beth­le­hem, Sha­heen’s par­ents, who be­long to a small Assyr­ian Chris­tian com­mu­nity, were refugees from Jerusalem. He grew up singing in churches and at pub­lic events and Christ­mas con­certs in his home city, and spent two years study­ing mu­sic and learning the oud at the Ed­ward Said Na­tional Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic.

Sha­heen’s calling card was his ability to mas­ter the mawwal – a tra­di­tional genre of Ara­bic mu­sic that pre­cedes the song and acts as an in­tro­duc­tion, al­low­ing the singer to show off his vo­cal mas­tery. Few are able to per­fect this im­pro­vi­sa­tional style but Sha­heen made it look ef­fort­less.

“Ev­ery time you sing, you prove how well-loved you are and how much that’s de­served,” said one of the judges, Le­banese singer Nancy Ajram, to Sha­heen. “You’re a suc­cess be­cause of your singing and your per­for­mance and your hand­some looks and your voice; please take care of all of this and re­main as you are.”

De­spite emerg­ing as clear favourite out of the three fi­nal­ists, Sha­heen had his work cut out for him. On Fri­day, the first half of the fi­nal fea­tured the three fi­nal­ists per­form­ing two songs each, in be­tween guest per­for­mances by As­saf.

The most suc­cess­ful product of the show, he has be­come a global phe­nom­e­non – with The Idol – a film about his life and how he over­came the odds to com­pete in the tal­ent show, di­rected by Hany Abu As­sad.

As well as per­form­ing, he had some words of en­cour­age­ment for this year’s fi­nal­ists.

“I know how stressed you must feel; this feel­ing of ten­sion, I lived it and I felt it and I un­der­stand it,” he said. “I stood where you are stand­ing, on this stage that means ev­ery­thing to me and that launched my ca­reer and that let me get to where I am now. I know what you’re go­ing through. You’re all won­der­ing if you are win­ners, but what you have to know is you’re al­ready win­ners.”

On Saturday night, the fi­nal­ists were joined by the 10 singers who made it to the end stages of sea­son four but were voted off in the weeks lead­ing up to the fi­nal. The guest per­former was Egyp­tian singer Sher­ine Ab­del-Wa­hab. When named the win­ner, Sha­heen cov­ered his face with his hands un­til Dan­dan of­fered him sup­port and hugged him, as Sha­heen sobbed into his shoul­der.

As­saf, who was in the au­di­ence, leapt onto the stage to hug and con­grat­u­late Sha­heen, and within sec­onds, three Pales­tinian flags were draped around the shoul­ders of Sha­heen, Dan­dan and As­saf. Once Sha­heen had com­posed him­self, he was hoisted onto the shoul­ders of his peers and handed a mi­cro­phone. He then per­formed Aalenha Ya Shaabi , a pa­tri­otic Pales­tinian song . He handed the mi­cro­phone to Dan­dan and As­saf re­peat­edly, both of whom joined him in singing a med­ley of Pales­tinian songs from pop­u­lar folk­lore, in­clud­ing Wein Ah Ra­mal­lah . The cheer­ing stu­dio au­di­ence could be seen danc­ing the Pales­tinian dabkeh, not un­like the fren­zied crowds watch­ing in Beth­le­hem. The other past win­ners of the show are Car­men Suleiman from Egypt, who won the first sea­son in 2012, and Hazem Sha­reef from Syria, who won sea­son three in 2015. Nei­ther has reached As­saf’s lev­els of pop­u­lar­ity and suc­cess. Sha­heen has his work cut out for him, but the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween him and As­saf’s win­ning for­mula might give him an edge. Both have youth on their side, a hum­ble de­meanour, clean-cut good looks, a Pales­tinian back­ground and strong, silky voices that were able to touch mil­lions. Ac­cord­ing to broad­caster MBC, this year’s fi­nal­ists re­ceived more votes than any­one else ever had on Arab Idol , which means more peo­ple voted for Sha­heen than even for As­saf. “Our chal­lenge was to make this sea­son bet­ter than any other sea­son,” said Egyp­tian mu­sic pro­ducer Has­san Al Shafei, a judge along­side Ajram, Le­banese singer Wael Kfoury and Emi­rati singer Ah­lam. “We’re the only pro­gramme that present to the Arab world not only beau­ti­ful voices, but beau­ti­ful voices that are dif­fer­ent and unique. Our three fi­nal­ists ex­em­pli­fied that.”


Courtesy MBC

Arab Idol win­ner Ya­coub Sha­heen.

Courtesy MBC

Con­tes­tant Am­mar Mo­hammed Alazaki, left, and guest per­former Sher­ine Ab­del-Wa­hab.

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