There were smiles and tears (and tears of joy) on Saturday night as The Voice Kids wrapped up its second season in front of a live audience in Beirut.
Broadcast on MBC, Morocco’s Hamza Lebyed emerged triumphant at the junior talent contest, winning the title by beating five other finalists (all aged between 7 and 14 years old).
In addition to a silver trophy and recording contract with the Dubai-based music label Platinum Records, Lebyed’s prize includes a 200,000
Saudi riyal (Dh195,881) education scholarship, as well as family trips to Disneyland Paris and London.
“This is amazing. It is like a dream,” said Lebyed during the media scrum after the show.
Al Sahir's winning streak
“I had a very good feeling that if I did my best and did what my coach Kadim Al Sahir said, then I had a good opportunity to win this.”
Indeed, the Iraqi crooner Al Sahir is developing into a specialist when it comes to spotting talent.
Lebyed’s victory marks back-to-back coaching titles for Al Sahir: the “Caesar of the Arabic Song” was also responsible for steering the 13-year-old Lebanese singer Lynn Al Hayek to win the inaugural season in 2016.
He also guided the Iraqi singer Sattar Saad to victory in the second season of The Voice Ahla Sawt – the adult version – in 2014.
“What I can say is that I take this responsibility very seriously,” Al Sahir told The National after the show.
“When I was first offered the opportunity to be coach on The Voice Kids I was scared as I didn’t know if I could be the person to get the best out of children. So I actually studied about it and read books on this topic. No matter who wins, this competition has touched me deeply and I learnt a lot from the experience.”
Classic songs get noticed
Lebyed’s win also marks a change in musical style when it comes to The Voice Kids finals.
Where Al Hayek’s victory last year was paved by energetic pop numbers, Saturday night’s selections were more vintage, with Lebyed successfully covering Qadak Al Mayas by Syrian tenor Sabah Fakhry and Anta Fain Wal Houb Fain by the great Um Kulthum.
That wasn’t the only track by the late Egyptian diva sung during the final, Egypt’s Ashraqat Ahmed – mentored by pop-star and compatriot Tamer Hosny – did a fine job of channelling the wistful yearning of the 1961 classic Hayrat Qalb Maak.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Lagai Al Masrhy kept it close to home with a slick performance of Dhalim wa Lakin by the late crooner Talal Madah.
Ultimately, it's a competition
Trained by Lebanese pop queen Nancy Ajram, the 10-year-old Saudi’s superb performance and onstage charisma resulted in the first big upset of the night.
When the public deemed, via SMS voting, that Al Masrhy had knocked out the favourite – the competent and supremely photogenic
Georges Assi – both children burst into tears.
It was the same case for the impossibly adorable Maraya Qahtani; under the watchful eye of Al Sahir, the eight-year-old Yemeni grew to become a confident and agile performer.
However, her sheer sass was not enough to overcome Lebyed’s vocal range, and her dismissal was tough to take.
It is in these human moments that The Voice Kids stands out from the plethora of talent quests.
Viewers genuinely feel for these young contestants. Qahtani couldn’t hide her tears when she returned for a group number after being voted out; a clearly affected Al Sahir – both a father and grandfather – comforted the inconsolable singer during the break.
Too much pressure on the children?
This begs the question, are such competitions putting way too much pressure on young children?
“I understand that people feel this way sometimes,” Hosny says after the show wrapped up.
“But this is ultimately a positive programme about the power of having dreams and ambitions.
“We are trying to teach them from a young age what it means to work hard and have a sense of drive.
“Yes, there will be disappointment, but that’s because we treat the kids as adults. We want them to understand what it means to overcome challenges. If we lay that imprint within these contestants, then we are helping create a better generation.”
While Ajram agrees with that sentiment, she says the teaching goes both ways.
“It’s not just these kids who are learning from us,” she says. “I have learnt so much from spending time with them. I see them go out and be brave each week.
“When they don’t make it they get disappointed, but not long after I see them happy again and supporting the other competitors. There is innocence there that I think we can all learn from.”
On that score, we will see how the adults fare when The Voice Ahla Sawt returns on Saturday night for its fourth season.
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