The fresh voices of the Middle East have elevated Arab Idol into much more than a TV reality show.
IT took Mohammad Assaf two days to get from his home in Khan Younis, Gaza in Palestine, to Egypt for the Arab Idolauditions. The 23-year-old Palestinian literally had to beg Hamas officers and bribe the border guards to let him pass through the border to attend the auditions, according to a report on online media monitoring network, The Middle East Monitor.
When he finally stepped into the hotel in Cairo where the auditions were being held, he realised he was a little too late. There were no more audition tickets left.
Disappointed but not willing to give up just yet, Assaf burst into song right in the hall where the other hopefuls were waiting.
Upon hearing him sing, Ramadan Adeeb Abu Nahel, another Palestinian youth at the auditions, decided to give his ticket up to Assaf telling him, “I know I won’t reach the finals, but you will.”
Ramadan Adeed made the right call.
Assaf – the first contestant on the show from Gaza – has made it to the finals of the second season of the reality singing show, a version of the original British show Pop Idol created by Simon Fuller.
In Palestine, Assaf has become somewhat of a national hero. Each week, millions of Palestinians switch on their televisions or log on to YouTube to watch the handsome, dark-haired youth with a megawatt smile (who is a college student moonlighting as a wedding singer in his hometown) belt out songs – mainly patriotic folk songs and romantic ballads – on the reality show which began broadcasting from Beirut, Lebanon, in March.
His strong, rich vocals along with his gutsy determination (evident by his struggle to get to the auditions) has inspired not only ordinary Palestinians – who apparently convene at restaurants and coffeehouses to watch the show – but also the judges of the show.
“You are the authentic Palestinian voice. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” commented judge Ragheb Alama, a prominent Lebanese singer, after one performance. The judges then surprised the young performer by asking him to release his new song, Ya Rayt Riyyi Khabiha, as a duet with him.
Assaf also reportedly received a telephone call from Mammoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, who expressed support and encouraged the youth to keep at it.
But it isn’t just Assaf’s voice and swagger that have captivated millions. It’s the spirit he embodies in all his performances. His Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Mohammad AssafArabIdol2013) is filled with comments from fans – largely Palestinians from all corners of the world – proclaiming their support and adulation for the young singer.
“Palestine and the world is so proud of you. God protect you,” said one fan, Jamal Hilmi, on the fan page.
Majida Abu Almeaza, a 45-year-old mother of five from Gaza, said that Assaf is showing the world that Palestinians are “humans who have a deep and beautiful culture”.