DUBAI //At first glance the group of Arabs gathered at the American University of Dubai yesterday appeared to have little in common.
There was a fruit-carver. A Donald Duck impressionist. A collection of Michael Jackson impersonators fixing their white gloves and fedoras, some nervously, some not.
What united the 45 Arabs from the UAE and beyond, however, was the belief they could capture the imagination of the judges and be chosen for the second season of Arabs' Got Talent. The reality show, now holding auditions across the region, will air on MBC4 in March.
The contestants had responded to an open casting call "for all Arabs of all ages" put out by the Middle East's version of the popular "Got Talent" shows.
One of them, the Sudanese-born Sari Abu Ali, aged 10, twirled his black fedora while his mother looked on. He planned to perform some of Michael Jackson's best dance moves. "He's a genius, and the best singer and dancer in the world," said Mr Ali.
When asked how he would impress first the show's producers, then the judges, the schoolboy responded: "I will do all of it, even the hair movements."
His reception was less than hoped for, however, as he was cut off mid-way through his routine, only to be given a reprieve when his mother said her mini-Michael Jackson had another move to show.
Although he eventually ran offstage with tears in his eyes, Sari recovered within minutes. Soon he was playing football with several other contestants outside the auditorium, where there were other, more important things on his mind.
"He is happy he got to miss school," said his mother.
Ahmed Khamis, a 17-year-old Emirati, tackled My Heart Will Go On, the theme song from the 1997 film Titanic. He and his friend Salman, both orphans from Dar Zayed in Al Ain, had a different reason for coming to the auditions.
"Maybe our parents would recognise us on TV and come for us," said Ahmed.
The auditions were recorded and overseen by four producers. Participants must now wait until September to find out whether or not they made the cut.
Sulieman al Harrasi, a 26-year-old Omani sandwiched between a Michael Jackson impersonator and a singer, sat patiently awaiting his turn to show the sparse crowd his particular talent. "I carve fruit and vegetables," he said.
Producing a watermelon and a tiny knife from a bag around his waist, Mr al Harrasi claimed he could create anything using his basic tools.
"I can carve a sunflower, or a shark, as well as ice, and foam," he said.
Making his way to the stage, he was reminded of his two-minute time limit. The crowd waited in silence as Mr al Harrasi cut furiously at the watermelon, before cheering appreciatively when he presented the judges with the flower he had carved. "If I had more time, I could have filled the stage with my carvings."
The smallest food he has worked with, he revealed, was an olive.
Before walking off stage, Mr al Harrasi offered the fruits of his labour to the judges. They refused, saying food was not allowed in the auditorium.
Last year Amr Qattamesh, an Egyptian poet, won the ultimate prize of 500,000 Saudi riyals (Dh489,000), a brand new car and a contract with MBC. This year's prize has yet to be announced.
Mr Qattamesh's win gave Manar Dhaher, a 17-year-old from Palestinian Territories and the only woman in the group, the courage to audition.
"I am a poet as well, and I have been told I am a good one," said Ms Dhaher.
Another trying his luck was a 14-year-old Lebanese schoolboy, Tarek Bilal. He hoped that his unusual - and self-professed "only" - talent of impersonating the classic Disney character, Donald Duck, would be enough to ensure him a place in the live shows.
"He's funny," said the schoolboy, who was joined at the audition by his mother. "I don't know why I started doing the impression, but my friends all love it."
By the time he took to the stage, the auditorium was mostly empty. Tarek's act, which involved him having a heated discussion with the imaginary cartoon duck - with Tarek playing both parts - was met with silence from the four producers. There was still a judging panel to impress, however, and Tarek hoped for a better reaction from them.
"It's OK, I can learn new characters by the time they decide," said the schoolboy.
Arabs' Got Talent, which premiered in January, has more than 875,000 fans on its Facebook page. Auditions will also take place in Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunis, Lebanon and Morocco.
Those who cannot attend the casting calls in person can send in videos through www.mbc.net/agt.