Time for show and tell

Najwa Karam is looking forward to the return of Arabs Got Talent.

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Arab talent shows have been on a roll of late with such programmes as The Voice, Arab Idol and The X Factor Arabia commanding huge audiences with their mix of appealing stars with inspiring backstories.

While Arab audiences embraced nearly all of the contestants, Arabs Got Talent has a special place for Gulf audiences due to locals reaching the finals in last year's season.

Emiratis welcomed the eventual winners, the Saudi illusionist group Khawater Al Thalam, but the performer on locals' lips was Shamma Hamdan, who excited the region with her mix of Khaleeji balladry and western rock influences.

The Dubai singer has since gone on to perform in concerts across the Middle East, with her next big engagement headlining Beats on the Beach on Abu Dhabi's Corniche in November.

Such developments make the Lebanese superstar Najwa Karam proud.

The Arabs Got Talent judge and music diva explains the programme is about giving people chances in a fiercely competitive industry.

"The show is all about working hard," she explains. "As you see throughout the programme, the contestants eventually realise what it takes to make it in the industry. It is about having that dream and really giving it your best. The experience pays off in the end as they end up working hard and following that dream after the show."

Arabs Got Talent has also been a revelation when it came to the programme's judging panel.

Those who initially dismissed the idea of Nasser Al Qasabi joining the programme as a judge last year would have been surprised by his insights throughout the past two seasons.

The Saudi comic's advice to Khawater Al Thalam on timing and stage presence was instrumental in the group taking out the competition.

Karam's often feisty demeanour in Middle Eastern tabloids found a more accommodating home within the programme. Her direct remarks to Hamdan throughout the series - including the memorable instruction to "make sure you open your mouth more when you are singing" - are always laced with almost motherly affection.

"I do feel the show did help some of us in the judging panel," Karam states. "I always care about my fellow performers because I understand it's not always easy to get on that stage and give it your best all the time. I wanted the audience to know that. I think what Arabs Got Talent did for me was that it showed the fact that I am emotional, I do care about people and that I am a really sociable person. I think it brought me even closer to the people."

With more than 50 million albums sold throughout a near 30-year career, the 47-year-old Karam transcended the Arab music scene to become a world music icon despite maintaining a classic Arabic pop feel throughout her 20 official albums.

She is proud of the fact she didn't succumb to the current musical style of singing in different Arabic accents to maximise her popularity.

In terms of attempting a Khaleeji dialect for a future release, Karam is dismissive. "Why would people accept me singing a song with a bad accent?" she asks.

"A lawyer cannot be an architect, they have to know the details of their respective jobs.

"I am Lebanese and I know the language and its techniques intimately. If I sing in any other accent, you just won't believe me."

That said, Karam doesn't have a problem with collaborating with young and up-and-coming artists from different genres if the chemistry is right.

"I am open to the idea if I feel there is some artistic affinity between me and someone from this new generation of artists," she says. "But I do feel these artists have to come to us as opposed to us coming to them."

. Arabs Got Talent is shown on MBC4 and MBC Masr at 10pm on Saturday. For details, go to www.mbc.net

Last year's winners, Khawater Al Thalam

Their goal might be to headline in Las Vegas, but last year's winners Khawater Al Thalam are obeying the age-old rule of show business: take over your neighbourhood before going global. The Saudi illusionist group have now expanded to include up to 27 members with various acrobatic talents. They have been busy playing locally, with shows in Jeddah and Medina, in addition to performing at humanitarian events in both Saudi Arabia and Qatar. A regional tour was recently held, with the UAE getting a taste of the magic back in August when the group headlined ­Ferrari World Abu Dhabi as part of its Eid celebrations.

Meet the new judge, Ahmed Helmi

Adding some exuberance to the judging panel is the Egyptian comedian and actor Ahmed Helmi. Known for his off-the-cuff performances in the comedies Aboud Ala Al Hodoud, Omar 2000 and Al Nazer, the 42-year-old hit pay dirt in the 2007 smash hit Keda Reda, a romantic comedy in which he played three different characters. It will be interesting to see whether Helmi's appearance on the show will reveal a more thoughtful personality or whether he will inject some of his screwball humour into the sometimes weary judging panel.