If there’s one thing Hamza Hawsawi is now known for – even more than his incredible talent, his great dance moves or his soulful, smooth-as-honey voice – it’s his humility.
The 24-year-old Saudi Arabian singer has been a big hit on the popular TV talent competition The X Factor, in the international singing category mentored by judge Ragheb Alama.
Many viewers might assume that this is his first brush with fame, his first experience performing in front of millions.
That, however, is not the case. There's been no mention of it on The X Factor so far, but Hawsawi's stage name, Ayzee, has become well known in the region in recent years. Since his first performance in 2008, he has released several original songs, while his YouTube channel, AyzeeHausawi, features his recent releases, cover versions and his jamming sessions with local artists.
Last year, he teamed up with Saudi rapper Qusai, aka Don Legend, on the MBC programme Arabs Got Talent. When they performed their original song Eve on the show's finale, it seemed like the culmination of years of smaller performances and musical collaborations for Hawsawi.
Now, however, with his ongoing success on The X Factor, things are a lot more serious, and on a much larger scale, for the R&B singer.
“This experience has been incredible,” says Hawsawi as he takes a quick break from the incessant rehearsals schedule on the set of the show in Beirut.
“The things I have learnt here in just a couple of months would have taken me years to learn. It’s an incredible opportunity. I really want this to continue. If anything, this has shown us that the life of a performer is tough and we understand this now as contestants – and yet we still want it. This is the life I choose.”
It looks to be well within his grasp. Hawsawi has received nothing but praise from his mentor, Alama, and the other judges, Lebanese singer Elissa and Egyptian actress and singer Donia Samir Ghanem.
On last Saturday's live episode, after his well-choreographed and brilliantly executed performance of the Pharrell Williams smash hit Happy, Elissa told him: "You're amazing. Every week I'm always excited to see what you will sing and see if I can find a mistake or something to comment on. There's nothing. You're perfect."
The judge’s gushing praise and his ever-growing fan base on social media are the only indications Hawsawi has of how popular he is becoming across the Middle East.
“As contestants, we’re secluded here and very immersed in doing the show week after week, just practising and learning and preparing all the time,” he says. “We don’t actually get to see the outcome or what people outside the programme think of us, so we’re not aware of whether or not we’re really all that popular. Social media is great, sure, but it’s temporary. A lot of people get big on these programmes but then you never hear about them again. That’s a fear for all of us as contestants.”
Despite this, he says he has high hopes for the future and the determination to work hard after he leaves the programme to keep the momentum going.
“I’d love to record an album, do a few videos, have the people who have been an audience of the show see me work hard,” he says. “I want to perform in festivals and concerts. I just want to be completely immersed in a career in music.”
His first time on stage was in 2008, when he took part in a talent show in Jeddah.
“Before that, I used to sing all the time, but just for fun,” he says. “The idea of becoming a singer like the people on the TV, the people I’ve always admired, seemed to be unreachable.”
His late mother always told him she loved his voice, he says, but he couldn’t take her seriously. “She’s my mum, of course she’s going to say that,” he says.
Sadly, the only time she saw him perform was at the first talent show, as she died that same year. However, Hawsawi says her memory is never far from his mind before every performance.
“The smile on her face after my first performance is the only confirmation I will ever need that I have to keep doing this,” he says.
He firmly believes that you have to do what you love and pursue your dreams.
“One of the reasons I’m doing this is to send out a message that if you have a dream, you can achieve it,” he says. “We come from a society where life is study, get a job, get married, have kids, that’s it – and try to love the job you were forced to be in. For me, my message to everybody is if you have a dream, follow it, do what you love to do – you only get one life.
“As long as I’m having fun on stage, then the audience will hopefully be having fun listening to me. So let’s all just have a good time with this.”