Following fierce competition as part of the early stages on the Middle East's hottest new show Arab Idol, it is now down to the final 10 contestants.
Starting tomorrow for the next nine weeks, MBC's Arab Idol will dedicate each Friday to performances by the contestants and Saturdays for one elimination - until only one is crowned the next superstar. Each week will also feature a performance by an Arab superstar.
The show is a spin-off from the hugely successful US reality television show American Idol, now in its 11th season, created by 19 Entertainment and developed by Fremantle Media and based on the UK show Pop Idol.
Arab Idol already had a winning recipe for success, solidified when an executive producer from Fremantle Media "shadowed our every move, assuring that everything was done according to international standards", said the show's Kuwaiti presenter Abdullah Tleihi.
Some 5,000 applications for the first season of Arab Idol were received from hopefuls. A producer at MBC Group says it has already become the "most watched show" from the Middle East in history.
"We have never seen such ratings and performance from one show outside the month of Ramadan, at least for the past six years," said Hussein Jaber. "The show has also been very active on social media platforms, and was trending worldwide on Twitter, gaining us more fans and followers on the platforms to reach 11 million followers."
To keep viewership up, "big surprises" are in store for the audience throughout the season, "maintaining their interest for such great talent shows that showcase the wealth of voices we have in this region".
Although various nationalities from the UAE auditioned, none made it through to the live shows. The 10 finalists are: Nadia Manfoukh, 28 from Syria; Yehia Zakaria Sayed Yakoub, 27, Carmen Essam Ali Soliman, 17 and Carmen Essam Ali Soliman, 17, all from Egypt; Ghofrane Ftouhi, 19, Chirine Lajmi, 16 and Hassan Kharbesh, 23, all from Tunisia; Dounia Batma, 20, from Morocco; Yousef Arafat, 19, from Jordan; Al Mumatin Mohammed Taher, 23, from Saudi Arabia and Mohammed Shihab Ahmed Alalwan, 20, from Iraq.
On the judge's seats are the Emirati singer Ahlam, the award-winning Lebanese singer Ragheb Alama - due in Dubai on February 29 to perform at the Cavalli Club, Restaurant & Lounge - and the Egyptian music producer and the vocalist Hassan El Shafei.
"The biggest challenge is to direct the jury panel in the right direction and identify the good and weak in each contestant," said lead judge Alama, adding "it doesn't just boil down to the one contestant only crowned 'Arab Idol', but all the finalists have reached the beginning of a new journey that will transform their lives forever".
He also said the quick jump to fame can create an imbalance for the contestants, therefore remaining grateful and appreciating the support of fans is important.
The door for many with talent is now open - which makes the judges' task crucial.
"Idol is one of the biggest formats in the world, and the challenging part is to maintain the worldwide reputation of the show," said Jaber.
El Shafei, who has worked with stars including Amr Diab and Nancy Ajram, said being a judge is both demanding and tricky.
"You cannot afford to make any mistakes or else you might be crushing someone's dream. You can't really judge music ... you only say what you think."
El Shafei said the experience provides strong potential for becoming "the next big thing" and advises aspiring singers not to try to imitate someone else.
That is an approach that Tleihi has taken, who has a tough act to follow in American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, and it seems to be working.
"Everyone seems to be enjoying the show and the entertainment side of it," he said. "I'm now being recognised on the streets and have been approached by some fans randomly."
The Tunisian singer Saber Al Rubai will be this week's guest performer.
- Arab Idol is broadcast at 21:30 KSA every Friday and Saturday and Arab Idol "Extra" is broadcast every Wednesday at 21:30 KSA on MBC1
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