Mennel Ibtissem moves 'Voice France' judges with Arabic take of Leonard Cohen’s 'Hallelujah'

The 22-year-old has also seen controversy over two-year-old tweets criticising the French government

Mennel Ibtissem performs Hallelujah during her audition on The Voice. YouTube
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The Voice France may still be in the audition stage, but the television talent quest already has a star on its hands.

French-Arab singer Mennel Ibtissem caused headlines both in France and the region after her spellbinding blind audition on February 4. It was not so much the way the 22-year-old Muslim sung Leonard's Cohen spiritual ode Hallelujah that stunned judges, but the matter in which she delivered the 1984 song.

After her smooth English and then French take of the first verse, which showcased her quavering jazzy vocals, she transitioned into the Arabic language, with the Hallelujah refrain replaced with an equally stirring ‘Ya Ilahi', which translates to 'My God'.

It was enough to for all four French coaches - singer and actor Florent Pagny, singer Pascal Obispo, singer and model Zazie and the Lebanese-born singer Mika - to turn their chairs around in a mark of approval.

Ibtissem eventually chose Mika, who said he believes she could win the competition. Her sudden thrust into the spotlight has not come without controversy, however.

In addition to performing while wearing a colourful turban, which she had to answer questions about on Twitter, French media also reportedly found controversial tweets, dating back to 2016 on Ibtissem's account, where she expressed criticism of France’s foreign policy.

Ibtissem posted her response on Twitter yesterday, saying: "I advocate a message of love, peace and tolerance, the proof is my choice to sing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. This song perfectly illustrates the message I want to make as an artist."

Born to a Syrian-Turkish father and Moroccan-Algerian mother, Ibtissem has released four YouTube videos over the span of a year on her own channel, where she performs piano covers of songs such as Impossible by Shontelle,  Adele's Make You Feel My Love and Halo by Beyoncé.

She is currently studying in the hope of becoming a professor of English.


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