DUBAI // A wildcard entry from Qatar emerged as the regional champion among the hundreds of hopefuls in the Middle East edition of Talentadong Pinoy.
The grand finals were held last night at the Boracay Club in the Asiana Hotel in Deira.
Student Haina Uddin, 16, beat five other finalists to become the first international winner of the popular Filipino talent search programme.
Haina's rendition of Jessie J's song Mamma Knows Best earned the nods of celebrity judges Arnell Ignacio, Gelli de Belen and Marvin Agustin, and the invited UAE-based jurors.
She won the grand prize of US$10,000 (Dh36,700) and a chance to compete in Manila.
Finishing second was 10-year-old singer Kesiah Eunice Ariteo while the five-member dance group Watawat came in third.
"I'm totally surprised," beamed Haina. "I'm just a wildcard entry and I'm just so happy to be given an opportunity to be part of the finals, so that makes my victory even more special."
Haina intends to donate part of her prize to a charity. She and her family also plan to start up a small business in the Philippines.
Ignacio praised Haina's exceptional singing voice and her ability to own the stage while performing.
"As judges, we've seen a lot of talent, and there are a lot of talented Filipinos here in the Middle East. But aside from that, we're also looking for the X-factor and Haina has all those traits," Ignacio said.
"I think she's destined to win this contest," de Belen said. "She was good even when we saw her in Qatar but she didn't win during the qualifying round.
"So when she made it as a wild card, I can't help but think that maybe she's really fated to win this whole thing."
Haina's victory served as a fitting finale to what had been a successful campaign by Talentadong Pinoy to bring joy to the large Filipino community working in the Middle East.
The auditions attracted a large number of aspirants from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Agustin commended all of the contestants who had taken time to participate in the auditions since the first day.
"You can't question the talent, whether you're talking about Manila or here in the Middle East," Agustin said. "But what impressed me the most is the dedication of the aspirants and their stories.
"They are all busy with their jobs and missing home but they are willing to share their talents, and that's very inspiring to us."