Nancy Ajram is the new judge on season two of Arab Idol, which will return to television screens next month.
The Arabic satellite channel MBC announced the inclusion of the Lebanese superstar in a high-profile press conference at Dubai’s Zabeel Saray hotel on Saturday.
In addition to Ajram, those present included last year’s debut season judges: the Emirati singer Ahlam, the Egyptian music producer Hassan El Shafei and the Lebanese crooner Ragheb Alama.
“At first I was a little nervous on joining such a platform,” said Ajram. “But after watching how the show developed last year, I really felt comfortable with it and I am so happy to join.”
With Ajram joining, the judging panel will now consist of an even number, a situation remedied by the fact that a contestant will qualify if they receive at least three yes votes from the judges.
The development guarantees to unleash some excitable exchanges from the judging panel – the press got a taste of what’s to come.
It seems like the time off hasn’t cooled the friendly but feisty rivalry between Ahlam and Alama.
The duo wasted no time in stating that they were looking forward to their on-air squabbles.
“The thing with Ahlam is she likes to argue,” chuckles Alama. “Even if it’s with herself.”
Ahlam said their on-screen rivalry is not merely for entertainment. Instead, it comes from a deep-seated concern for the contestants.
“Yes, we may not see eye to eye on a lot of things,” she said. “But at the end of the day, all we care about is the future of the contestants. As judges, that is what we are here for.”
El Shafei explained that the success of the debut season allowed for a higher calibre of contestants to audition this year.
“We were surprised by how good some of them were,” he said. “It was because of that the decisions became more unanimous during those early stages, because the quality was there.”
MBC spokesperson Mazen Hayek explained that with the exception of Ajram’s addition and the fact that the judging panel did not travel to every major Arab city for auditions, the programme will not undergo any changes compared to the previous season.
“Like the American format, we sent a production team to some destinations for the auditions before we brought them to the judges,” he said.
Whatever the level of talent, Alama is looking forward to offering help. “You know, it has always been a dream of mine to do something like this,” he said. “I have achieved a level of success and the opportunity to give back and help find the next level of stars is something I always wanted to do. I think it is something that a lot of us who reached a certain level must do.”
Ajram is not the only new face to hit our screens this season.
The Egyptian singer and actor Ahmad Fahmy has been tapped to co-host the weekly programme with the Lebanese model Annabella Hilal. He is looking forward to using his musical background to help contestants. “I first started out as a musician and I also studied in a conservatoire,” he said. “Also, I feel that I wanted to show my fans a new side of me and judging from the feedback, they seem very supportive.”
Ahlam also disclosed a juicy piece of backstage information by admitting that on the debut season she signed on as a judge at literally the last minute.
“The press conference and the journalists were taking their seat,” she said. “I signed the contract backstage just before I walked on to stage to be announced.”
• Season two of Arab Idol will be broadcast on MBC 1 and MBC Masr next month. The date and times will be revealed soon. For more details, visit www.mbc.net