Arab-American singer grabs attention on The Voice US

The blind auditions for the reality show were all about diversity.

Laith Al-Saadi, an American of Iraqi descent, on the Voice US. Tyler Golden / NBC
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His voice is so enormous, he doesn’t even need a microphone.

That's what Maroon 5's Adam Levine, one of the judges on The Voice US, says of an Arab-American contestant who is making waves on the American edition of the reality show.

Laith Al-Saadi, a 38-year-old blues guitarist from Iraq who lives based in Michigan, auditioned for The Voice with a performance of The Letter, a 1967 hit track by The Box Tops.

Two of the four celebrity coaches – Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and country star Blake Shelton – turned their chairs in approval.

Wooing Al-Saadi to join his team, Levine told him: “I think you’re unbelievable – a musician unlike anyone we’ve ever had ... Your voice is so enormous, you don’t even need a microphone,” said Shelton.

“A lot of yelling in my house,” Al-Saadi quipped, and picked Levine as his coach.

In a 2014 interview with the Metro Times, Al-Saadi said his sound is influenced by Middle Eastern music: "Particularly in the improvisational areas, I really like the sound of a lot of Middle Eastern scales. I do try to incorporate elements of that. I grew up on [Lebanese singer] Fairuz."

Soul and growl

On this week's Battle Rounds, where contestants competed against fellow team members in one-on-one matches, Al-Saadi was paired with a fellow blues guitarist, 20-year-old Matt Tedder. They duetted on The Rolling Stones's Honky Tonk Women, a performance praised by the other coaches, Christina Aguilera and Pharrell Williams, who told Al-Saadi he was "magical" on stage.

“Laith, your soul, your growl, you would definitely be my choice,” said Aguilera.

Levine picked Al-Saadi as the battle’s winner. He advances to next week’s Knockout rounds, featuring the final 32 contestants.

From med school to music

Another standout contestant who made it to the competition’s top 32 is Moushumi Chitre, a 22-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants. Chitre, known on The Voice simply as “Moushumi”, recently attended medical school in Manipal, India but dropped out after two years to pursue music in New York.

During her audition of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game, Moushumi turned the chairs of Levine, Williams and Aguilera. The remaining judge Shelton commented that he would have also pressed the chair buzzer but his team was already full.

As her teary-eyed parents watched from backstage, Moushumi picked Williams to be her mentor.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met an Indian girl who sings the way you do,” Williams said.

Moushumi went on to win her one-on-one battle this week with contestant Jonathan Hutcherson, performing Ed Sheeran's Photograph.