Hazem Sharif crowned new Arab Idol in sparkling finale

As Syrian singer Hazem Sharif wins the third season of Arab Idol, we report from the glittering two-episode finale in Beirut.
The three finalists from left: Hazim Sharif (winner) an Majed Al Madani and Haitham Khalailah. Courtesy MBC
The three finalists from left: Hazim Sharif (winner) an Majed Al Madani and Haitham Khalailah. Courtesy MBC

The 21-year-old Syrian, Hazem Sharif, won the third season of MBC’s Arab Idol programme on Saturday, November 13 after amassing the most votes from a pan Arab television audience estimated at over 100 million people.

In what was a star-studded, two-part final episode, Sharif edged out fellow finalists Haitham Khalailah from Palestine and the Saudi Majed Al Madani.

As well as regional stardom, Sharif’s prize includes 250,000 Saudi riyals (Dh244,000), a recording contract with the Dubai based label Platinum Records (three singles and a video clip), in addition to a (well-earned) holiday in the Seychelles.

Ironically, Sharif’s victory was the only expected moment in a season packed with surprises and shock exits.

That said, both Khalailah and Al Madani didn’t arrive at the Beirut studio simply to make up the numbers. Both saved their best performances for the last and wowed the judging panel: the UAE diva Ahlam, the Egyptian producer Hassan El Shafei and the Lebanese pop stars Nancy Ajram and Wael Kfoury.

Khalailah delivers consistency at last

Friday night was totally dedicated to the finalists, as they all took turns in performing three songs each.

Their selections provided a glimpse of their strategy used to win over the voters and, perhaps, the careers they hope to launch after the show. Khalailah, who has been inconsistent throughout the series, stayed within his comfort zone on Friday.

His opening salvo was the patriotic Palestinian dabka El Majd Maamerha, and he did a fine job of showcasing his passionate voice over the mawal – the song’s improvisational a-cappella introduction.

“That is your secret weapon,” remarked Ajram. “You have a voice that inspires a lot of emotion and you do that brilliantly with your mawals. Always keep that in your toolbox.”

The 23-year-old continued his solid run with Had Yensa Albo by Lebanese giant George Wassouf. The rhythmic number was the perfect vehicle for Khalailah’s gritty voice.

For his last song, Khalailah returned to his homeland with Omer Abudllat’s Ya Saad. The performance had Ahlam on her feet saying: “I can smell the olive groves of Palestine in your voice.”

Al Madani battles finals illness

Al Madani didn’t stray far from home, and sang a trio of Khaleeji songs on Friday night. The 26-year-old battled a severe cold (a similar fate struck the UAE contestant Humeid Abdouli during the programme’s early live rounds) to deliver a heroic showing – all three performances easily were the best of the competition.

He began with Masaalet Waket by Kuwait’s Abdullah Ruwaished; the only hint of his illness was his slight struggle with the chorus’ high notes. Next up was the rollicking Ebtea’ad Aani by the late Saudi singer Talal Maddah. It was an apt choice, and Al Madani revelled in the lyrics, which were about seizing the moment.

“I felt that you meant every single word that you said on that song,” said El Shafei. “That was brilliant, so just keep going.”

Al Madani concluded his opening night’s account with another Saudi tune, Shab El Sha’er by Rabeh Sager. The rousing performance was a standout because the singer grabbed the microphone and moved freely to engage with the audience.

No cruise control for Hazim Sharif

With Sharif being the clear favourite throughout the season, he wisely elected to go for a setlist mixing his tried and tested balladry with more adventurous material.

His opener, the cinematic Ya Hobbi Elli Ghab, proved he didn’t plan to cruise to victory; the Malham Barakat tune is deceptively difficult to perform with its alternating pitches.

Kfoury praised Sharif, requesting an eventual picture with him “before you perform your first big concert”.

Next up was Assi Helani’s Shofo Shamena. Once again Sharif pushed himself in the Lebanese folk song as he ditched his pleasant crooning to virtually roar out the chorus.

Sharif concluded Friday night’s events with a reminder of what made the Arab world pay attention to him in the first place – his emotive rendering of tradition Syrian folk songs. His take on Ya Helou Ya Msalini represented the best of the genre, with its yearning melodies and lyrics blending the spiritual with the historical.

Special guest – the UAE’s own Hussain Al Jasmi

Saturday night’s episode was, as Ahlam put it, “more of a party than a final”. The guest of honour was the UAE’s very own Gulf-pop king Hussain Al Jasmi. The much loved Khor Fakkan singer performed six songs including the fan favourites Bushrat Khair and Bahebak Wahashtini. Before leaving the stage he offered some words of advice to the young finalists. “When it comes to building a lasting career, I think it comes down to a balance of being smart in song choices, how and where you present these songs live,” he said. “The second half, and I would say this is more important, is your character. It is your character and how you treat people that will speak volumes about yourself as an artist. Never think of yourself as standing on the mountain top looking down on people, always be balanced and treat people kindly.”

The final vote

With the finalists limited to one song each in the final, it was Sharif’s silky take of Kareem Mahmoud’s We En-nabby Ya Gamil that was the standout. When his name was called out by the Arab Idol hosts Annabella Hilal and Ahmed Fahmi as the winner, the overcome Sharif pledged to hit the road for an immediate live tour after a short break.

“I just want to go out there and perform to all the people who voted for me,” he said. “I can’t believe that I am standing here and talking to you as the new Arab Idol. This is an amazing feel and an honour that I do not take lightly. I hope to all see you when I am performing shows soon.”

• All songs performed by the Arab Idol finalists are available for download on www.anghami.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae

Published: December 14, 2014 04:00 AM

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