x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Voice season finale: it's just the beginning

As the first season of the Arabic version of the show draws to a close, four contestants are in the running to receive a record deal and more.

Yusra Mahnoush has been performing since she was 8 years old. Courtesy MBC
Yusra Mahnoush has been performing since she was 8 years old. Courtesy MBC

Road to the final

The Voice delivered what it promised. Over the past two months viewers have been enchanted by some of the best voices from the Arab world. Contestants from the Gulf to Morocco delivered their own takes on Arab classics and modern hits in addition to western pop songs.

After being divided into teams coached by celebrated Arab superstars - the Iraqi singer and poet Kadim Al Sahir, the Egyptian pop-princess Sherine, the Tunisian singer Saber El Rebai and the Lebanese balladeer Assi El Helani - contestants underwent a series of battles and most were either voted off by their coaches or the television audience.

From the hundreds who applied, one contestant from each team remains. Not only are they competing to launch their music careers and representing their countries, but each one will also strive to repay the faith shown by their coaches.

The finale format

The time for sage advice and stern warnings is over. After months of being mentored by their coaches, the four contestants are on their own as they hit the stage to sing an original song that could be their lead single. The coaches will probably offer platitudes and encouragement, but it is ultimately up to the television audience to decide the winner.

Finalist 1: Yusra Mahnoush

Representing Al Sahir's team, the Tunisian singer is well known in her homeland because she has been performing since the age of 8 and is part of an established musical family.

No stranger to the big stage, Mahnoush has performed in many festivals across the region and has done a great job of using the competition to establish herself as a solo artist. She advanced to the final after a stirring rendition of Umm Kalthoum's Ba'eed A'nak, which prompted Al Sahir to praise her as "a true artist".

Finalist 2: Farid Ghanam

Ghanam established himself as a bit of a wild card with his jazz leanings. Tutored by Sherine, the Moroccan - one of two in the finals - viewed music as an escape from his impoverished upbringing.

After establishing a local group called Mayar in his homeland, Ghanam decided to see if his smooth and sensitive take on Arab hits would translate to a wider audience. Viewers of The Voice immediately responded, particularly to his reconstruction of pop favourites, including Amir Diab's Habibi Ya Nour Al Ain last week. Sherine praised him for his "original flavour" and being "truly unique".

Finalist 3: Qusai Hatem

He may have been born on New Year's Day but Hatem wouldn't mind receiving an early birthday present tomorrow night. Mentored by El Rebai, the Iraq singer ironically views his rival judge Al Sahir as his musical hero. Al Rebai didn't let ego get in the way, however; he helped his charge produce consistent performances of traditional Arabic hits and Iraqi folk songs. Rebai declares him as the contestant "with the unique method and exceptional voice".

Finalist 4: Mourad Barouki

He's got the looks - and, to many, - the voice, too. Barouki has been the crowd favourite since the early stages and his coach, Al Helani, helped finesse a few rough edges during the competition.

The Moroccan, who gets most of his songwriting inspiration from travel, comes from a renowned musical family in which he learned to play various musical instruments from a young age.

His semi-final performance of the traditional Arabic ode Ya Mal Al Sham had Al Helani rising to feet throughout the performance. "I cannot hear Murad while sitting," he explained. "That is how much I admire his voice."

The prize

There may not be a cash prize but instant stardom is virtually assured with news that the Moroccan super-producer RedOne (real name Nadir Khayat) will helm at least one song of the winner's debut album, to be released by Universal Music MENA.

RedOne, a Grammy Award winner, produced many hits including Lady Gaga's Just Dance and Jennifer Lopez's On the Floor.

Patrick Boulos, the managing director of Universal MENA, said the major record label is also looking to provide the winner with further mentoring: "The show is a great platform for Universal Music MENA to start developing new Arabic talent and building the careers of future stars from the Middle East."

The Voice finale will be broadcast on MBC 1 Thursday night at 10pm. For details go to www.mbc.net

sasaeed@thenational.ae