When his closest friend died four years ago, Ahmed Wagdy, 26, from Mansoura, a city near Alexandria in Egypt, stopped singing. At the weekend, millions of television viewers watched him get his voice back.
He was the last person to stand before the judges at the Arab Idol auditions in Alexandria.
“I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I told you I didn’t even hum a tune in the four years,” he told them. “I thought, why not come to the audition and use this opportunity to see what my voice has been up to and whether I still have it in me.”
It took him several long seconds to compose himself and finally start singing, while the judges watched with growing impatience.
But when he began, their impatient stares turned to amazement.
Hassan El Shafei and Nancy Ajram were so impressed that they started arguing about who would get to hand Wagdy the Emirates Golden Ticket that would allows him to travel to Beirut and proceed to the second round of the competition.
Ajram slapped her own face in excitement and clapped in the middle of Wagdy’s audition. She held the ticket up to her face so he could see it as he sang, and all four judges handed it to him without any need to discuss it among themselves, or even vote. It was a unanimous decision – his was easily the best audition the judges had seen that day.
Wagdy joins nine other hopefuls from Alexandria, seven from Erbil and four from Berlin who were chosen to advance during Friday night's Arab Idol episode.
In Erbil, there were similar scenes when 23-year-old Ammar Kufi, from Kurdistan, was the last person to audition. He sang an Iraqi mawwal and his performance was the judges’ favourite of the day.
“I thank you,” El Shafei told him. “How tireless it is for us to listen to such a beautiful voice.”
Ahlam agreed. “I just want to hear more from you. I can’t imagine ever getting bored of listening to you.”
Kufi even received a positive comment from the show’s Lebanese newcomer Wael Kfoury. “You saved me,” he said. “People consider me very harsh, but I can show how easy I can become, in this instance. Let the people judge, not me. You have my vote.”
This season of Arab Idol, the third, is the first time the popular pan-Arab show has visited Berlin and the freezing weather there did not stop multitudes of Arabs – and a few Germans who did not speak a word of Arabic – to show up on for the auditions on March 2.
A 27-year-old Iraqi man failed to impress the judges with his unique style of music, but vowed to make it to Beirut on his own and “show everybody”.
Husein Jafar Musa, who goes by the name Sein, claimed to have invented a new form of music by combining Arabic music with RnB – which he calls R ’n’ Bic. This prompted Ajram to mutter to herself: “God help us all”.
El Shafei let him down a little more gently. “I think it’s a start,” he said. “It’s nice you’re doing something totally new, I encourage you in that.” However, Musa received a resounding “no” from all four judges.
Four more cities remain on Arab Idol’s auditions tour: Paris, Casablanca, Bahrain and a first-time stop for a reality talent contest in Palestine.
• Arab Idol is on MBC1 on Friday and Saturday nights from 10pm to midnight.