SHARJAH // Gathering her courage, Lubna Habeeb stood in front of the panel of five judges and began singing A Woman's Worth by Alicia Keys without any backing music.
Even in a recording studio this would be a difficult song to execute but Ms Habeeb managed to pull it off it straight after her design and communication class at the American University of Sharjah (AUS).
She was one of 60 students who took part in auditions last week for the university's annual talent show. The contest, called AUS Got Talent, is a cross between America's Got Talent and American Idol. Now in its third year, it is organised by the campus radio station, which has managed to secure a winning prize worth more than US$10,000 (Dh36,700), It involves a recording deal with a local studio, which will write, record and produce a song for the best contestant.
"It's a pretty big deal, I was really nervous," said Ms Habeeb, 22. "It's a really good opportunity for whoever does win plus it brings everyone at the university together. It's a lot of fun."
Following Ms Habeeb's audition was a 19-year-old economics student, Soha Shami, who sang a Faith Evans song with her laptop playing the backing track. Immediately after her song came Fadi Rifai, 19, a civil engineering junior, who sang Christina Aguilera's ballad Hurt, a daring choice for a male, according to the jury.
"You should not sing songs by female artists," said Mina Zuberi, 20, a journalism student, who directed him to sing another song, which he did.
All three students left the auditions waiting to hear whether they will make the final cut.
From the 60 auditions, 20 will be chosen to take part in the semi-finals and only half of those will make it through to the finals, which are due to take place next week.
Aly Abdesalam, 21, the treasurer of Power Hits Radio, who is organising the contest, said the competition was tough.
"Each year it is getting more popular and more people are entering," he said. "There's a huge amount of talent here and it's a great prize so many people want to win."
Although the prize is geared towards singers, the competition is also open to dancers, bands and performers of any kind.
For the final two rounds, a stage will be set up somewhere in the university grounds and students will be encouraged to come and watch.
Hattaf Ansari, 21, who is in charge of PR and marketing for Power Hits Radio, said: "We will partly judge by the crowd's reaction. We want to make sure we choose the right winner."