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Jennifer Grout on competing in the new show Your Face Sounds Familiar and her rise to fame

Jennifer Grout is set to wow Arab audiences once again in the new MBC talent show Your Face Sounds Familiar. Saeed Saeed speaks to the American about her success story

Jennifer Grout will compete against seven other celebrities in Your Face Sounds Familiar. Joseph Eid / AFP
Jennifer Grout will compete against seven other celebrities in Your Face Sounds Familiar. Joseph Eid / AFP

After wowing the Arab world with her pitch-perfect renditions of regional singing legends on the last season of Arabs Got Talent, the American singer Jennifer Grout is back in competition at the new weekly talent show Your Face Sounds Familiar. The programme will be broadcast on MBC4 and MBC Masr on April 19, with the 23-year-old Bostonian going up with seven other celebrities as they attempt to impersonate iconic Arab singers.

Judged by an all-star panel, led by the Lebanese pop star Haifa Wehbe, the contestants with the most points at the end of each episode and the whole series win cash prizes that will be donated to regional charities. The Morocco-based Grout says she returned to the screen because of the programme’s “lighter touch”, which was appealing after the gruelling schedule and the intense media spotlight of Arabs Got Talent.

“It’s nice that we are only competing to give the most money to charity,” she says. “It is a great concept and I like the fact that you just don’t blend in with everybody else. Each person gets a chance to express themselves uniquely.”

Did your success in Arabs Got Talent inspire you to join Your Face Sounds Familiar?

Before I joined Arabs Got Talent, I knew that if I got in, it would show people what I can offer. So, yes, I was happy with how the whole thing turned out. This was also part of the reason to come on this show. When MBC offered the chance, I realised it would be worth it because it will again push me and challenge me in new ways.

You have always wanted to be a performing artist. Did the success of Arabs Got Talent result in more gigs in the region?

To be honest, the answer would be no. It has always been a little bit tough over here. Before Arabs Got Talent, there were many times where I would go to places for singing jobs and I would say that I am an American and that I can sing in Arabic and they would just laugh at me and say that it was cute. I remember in Morocco, I would go to these hotels and places and I would show them that I sing and play the oud and give them my résumé. They would smirk and say they would call me. Of course they never did. So Arabs Got Talent was a big “take that” to those people. Now I have a nice job in a place called Riad Kniza in Marrakech where I perform Arabic music.

Have you started working on an album?

I did speak to a few people about working on an album but, now, with this show, it has been pushed back a couple of months. One of my dreams right now is to put out an album of traditional Moroccan music. Why Moroccan? It’s because I am used to singing this sharqi (Eastern) style of music. I also speak the language, I live there and it’s always fun to sing about things that reflect your own environment. It’s also because I love Morocco and I do want to give something back to the people over there.

How about the reaction back in the United States? Have you been following the discussions surrounding you in the American media and on social networking sites?

In general, it was all supportive, but I did see a lot of conversations on the internet about cultural appropriation and whether I am doing that or not.

What are your thoughts on that?

It’s just a silly discussion to me. It is quite simple: yes, I am an American and I have fallen in love with a culture that is not my own. Not only that, but I started to sing music that is classified by most people as very hard to sing. But I just love it and, really, that’s all there is to it.

The Arabs Got Talent judge Najwa Karam and others expressed that you can be a bridge between the East and West. Is that label too big to take on?

I am flattered if somebody feels that I am a bridge between the two cultures, but it’s simpler for me because I am just doing what I am doing because of my love for it.

A video surfaced last year that showed you giving the shahada (the declaration of faith) and accepting Islam. What role does your faith play in your life?

That video was part of a Berber documentary I did with my fiancé before Arabs Got Talent happened. Spirituality, for me, is very important. Now I have found a path and no matter what problems come to me, I know I now have the stability to keep going. It’s wonderful, to say the least.

• Your Face Sounds Familiar is on MBC4 and MBC Masr on April 19 at 10pm. For more information, visit www.mbc.net

sasaeed@thenational.ae