The regional spin-off of The Voice announced its coaching panel at a series launch in Beirut last Sunday, with the popular talent show scheduled to return to screens on Saturday, September 21.
The most talked-about element of the latest season is the reunion of Emirati singer Ahlam and Lebanese crooner Ragheb Alama. This will be the first time both stars have worked together on a talent series since their stormy stint on Arab Idol between 2011 and 2013.
Their frequent verbal jabs at one another, not to mention their differing approaches to judging, was enough for Alama to call it quits at the end of the show's second season. The latest season of The Voice: Ahla Sawt will mark his return to a television series after a six-year hiatus.
Alama will be joined by another series debutant, experienced Moroccan singer Samira Said. Egypt's Mohamed Hamaki rounds off the panel and the Mel Bedaya singer is becoming a specialist of the format, as he is also a coach on The Voice Kids.
'I view him as a good friend' Ahlam says of Alama
While all the panel members attended the launch, the focus was on Ahlam and Alama to see if time apart had soothed their lingering resentments. Those looking for a UFC-style trash talk session between the pair will have been disappointed, as the singers went out of their way praise to the other's capabilities.
"I view him as a good friend and a great artist and I am glad he is on the show," Ahlam said. "He will definitely raise the standards and you will see clearly that when the show returns."
Alama went as far as to say that reuniting with Ahlam was the catalyst that made him join the show.
Alama went as far as to say that reuniting with Ahlam was the catalyst that made him join the show. However, he did say that the format of The Voice franchise, in which coaches are in charge of mentoring their own contestants, will go a long away in limiting any potential fireworks between the two coaches, as was the case on Arabs Got Talent.
“The show has its own rules,” he said. “You basically have your own team and none of the other judges can really interfere with what you are doing and cause trouble. That said, Ahlam can always do something to change that. She is creative.”
In response, Ahlam faked anger and snapped: "What did you call me? Oh yes, I am creative."
However, despite the high-profile pairing of Ahlam and Alama, The Voice: Ahla Sawt's overall coaching panel is one of its most dynamic yet, musically spanning everything from classical Arabic music and balladry to Gulf and pop styles. If the mentors do their job well, then viewers should be rewarded with the most dynamic set of contestants yet.
The perfectionist: Ahlam
Perhaps because she was the winning judge last season, Ahlam is thinking about more than just the win when she returns to her red chair.
“I am not really in it to win. This is not my intention this season,” she said. “If I am completely honest with you, this year all I am looking for is to really find the best voice in this competition. And the talent that we have seen in this series is remarkable, the job is getting much harder now. It is more than just about winning.”
The technician: Ragheb Alama
With over three decades experience in the business, Alama knows a thing or two about coaxing the best performance out in any given situation. He said that, with his contestants, he is looking for technical ability more than personality.
"This is what attracted me to The Voice actually," he said. "Especially the fact that a lot of it is down to blind auditions. I don't know the person and I can't see them, it is all about me being moved by their voice. I love that focus on talent."
The wild card: Samira Said
No one knows what to expect from the Moroccan singer. Truth be told, she doesn’t know either. Said admitted that it took her a few episodes to get into the groove as coach. To make up for her lack of experience in such a role, Said said she has been relying on gut instinct, and is following the intuition that made her a successful artist to begin with.
“I have sung various styles throughout my career, which I would say is even longer than my good friend Ragheb Alama's, and in that time I sang everything from tarab music to lighter poppy songs. All I know is what moves me and I will help the contestants to find the best songs to showcase their talent.”
The best friend: Mohamed Hamaki
For the more fragile contestants, the Egyptian singer is a good option, as he wants to be your friend. Hamaki is the most sensitive of the panel and prefers a hands-on role when working with his talents.
“I don’t view the job as the people doing what I say. It is more a collaboration,” he said. “We will discuss together the songs that they should sing – I will propose things, and they will have their own ideas and we will agree together. We are partners in this whole journey.”
It is for this reason that Hamaki views The Voice: Ahla Sawt as less strenuous than his similar role in The Voice Kids.
“That is hard, because you do get emotionally attached,” he said. “You are working with young people and it is sometimes very difficult to make those hard decisions. It can affect you at times.”
The Voice: Ahla Sawt returns on MBC 1 on Saturday, September 21. Broadcast details will be revealed soon on www.mbc.net