x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Arab Idol finalists share what they've learnt in the competition

We speak to Ahmad Gamal, Farah Youssef and Mohammad Assaf about their nerves and representing their nation in the competition. 

Ahmad Gamal says,
Ahmad Gamal says, "To be here in the final is such a rewarding feeling and worth all the hard effort." Courtesy MBC

We speaks to the Arab Idol finalists about their nerves and what it's like to represent their nation in the competition

Ahmad Gamal, 25, Egypt

Not too long ago, Ahmad Gamal spent most of his time in front of beakers in a lab rather than before a microphone on a star-studded stage.

While the Egyptian has completed his pharmacy degree in his homeland, his once-hidden vocal and composing talents have gained the most recognition.

"It has indeed been something I could never expect," he says. "To be here in the final is such a rewarding feeling and worth all the hard effort. I do hope with all my heart to win the competition."

Gamal's progress to the final was nearly derailed after he finished in the bottom three in the sixth round.

He says such ups and downs imparted valuable career lessons: "The show felt like a real deep study into the art of Arab music performance. There is a philosophy behind it and I feel like I gained a lot of experience. A personal treat was to finally learn how to sing traditional Lebanese songs in an authentic way."

Gamal says he underestimated the programme's influence on the Arab world but he is comfortable with the notion of representing Egypt in the final.

"I speak to my family regularly and they tell me the country is behind me," he says. "I even heard that many young people are investing in publicity campaigns about my appearance on the show. This means a lot."

Whatever happens, Gamal says, the Arab Idol experience fulfilled a number of lifelong dreams.

One of the biggest was performing alongside the Egyptian legend Mohammed "The King" Mounir.

"To share the same stage was a huge moment for me," Gamal says. "He wished me all the best and said that he is supporting me."

Farah Youssef, 24, Syria

Since the first round, Farah Youssef's expressive voice had enraptured the crowd.

But the Syrian singer's journey stretches back to Abu Dhabi.

As a 7-year-old, she took to the stage of the Abu Dhabi Educational Center and performed in the presence of the late Sheikh Zayed and his wife Sheikha Fatima.

A fan of the debut season of Arab Idol, Youssef says she had no qualms about auditioning for the second season.

"Watching the programme last year really gave me the urge to finally give it a go," she says. "Now I am in the final contest among friends. I of course never expected it. It was the fans that brought me this far."

Youssef says her resonant performance mirrors the way she feels when performing on stage.

"When I am on stage singing I am often thinking of my family," she says. "I feel a sense of responsibility to the audience and there is always that deep happiness mixed with fear."

Youssef's UAE connection also extends to the show with judge Ahlam dispensing tough yet important advice on voice and stage presence.

It is all part of the learning process, Youssef states.

"I feel the most important aspects I learnt from my experience here are maturity and discipline," she says. "I feel these were the things I was lacking when I entered the competition. Now, I feel more confident and know what to do when I am presenting something on stage. I also learnt to take a step back and think before I commit to something."

Despite the acclaim and the international coverage her performance is receiving, Youssef says she is undaunted by the weekend's final.

"The programme has taught me to be calm," she says. "This is one of the most important things an artist needs. I am looking forward to the final episodes."

Mohammad Assaf, 23, Palestine

He is the young crooner with the voice of a legend. Mohammad Assaf has smitten audiences with his smooth stylings, recalling the likes of Egypt's old-school performer Abdel Halim Hafez.

Buoyed by the enthusiastic response to his performances, Assaf says he now has the confidence to take out the title.

"I am so happy because I feel like I have now achieved half of my dream by coming to the final," he says. "Now the big hope is to win the competition, God willing."

Studying journalism in Gaza, Assaf found more success on stage rather that on the page. He made his stage debut as a 5-year-old and has since performed in Arab music festivals across the region.

Those high-pressure environments, he explains, didn't prepare him for the cut-and-thrust nature of appearing in a high-rating talent show.

Assaf describes the Idol experience as exhausting and requiring mental strength.

"It definitely teaches you a few things," he says. "For me it was the importance of being calm and consistent in what you are doing. It also really confirmed the idea that only through hard work do the best results occur."

Assaf says his signature yearning performance is born out of his connections to the song.

"I have to feel every lyric and note of the song," he says. "I am also thinking about the audience and how they would react to such a song. When all of this comes together, I then feel that when I am on stage. I own the world."

Assaf is proud his achievements have brought hope to his war-torn nation.

"I speak to my parents regularly and they advise me to remain humble and treat people equally," he says. "They also tell me to remember the plight of Palestine. It is always in my heart where ever I go."

sasaeed@thenational.ae

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