Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

UAE auditions send four singers to Arab Idol’s second round — including one from Japan

Nao Koyaso at the audition of Arab Idol season 3. Courtesy MBC
Nao Koyaso at the audition of Arab Idol season 3. Courtesy MBC

Only four hopefuls are going on to the second round of Arab Idol’s third season in the coming weeks: an Emirati, a Saudi with previous experience on the show, a terrified and tired Iraqi and a 29-year-old from Japan who blew all four judges away.

They were chosen out of hundreds of hopefuls who turned up on March 22 at Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Hotel to audition in front of the celebrity judges: the Emirati singer Ahlam, Nancy Ajram, Wael Kfoury and Hassan Al Shafei. Nao Koyasu’s audition prompted a collective gasp from all four judges, and consequently, across the Arab world.

When the 29-year-old from Tokyo strode on-screen, in tights and a miniskirt, sporting blunt bangs and porcelain skin, Ajram could not contain herself.

“Oh my God,” she said, while the rest of the judges stared, open-mouthed.

“Where are you from?” began Ahlam, speaking to Koyasu in Arabic. And in perfect, classical Arabic, Koyasu replied: “I am from Japan.”

“I am the only person to sing Arabic songs in Japan,” said Koyasu. “When I choose to sing specific Arabic songs, I write the lyrics in Arabic, again and again, to memorise the Arabic songs, and this is a big challenge for me.”

Arab Idol’s well-documented popularity in the Arab world is what made her want to audition. Her rendition of the Fairouz classic, Aatini Al Nai, was haunting. Although her pronunciation was not perfect, her grasp of the song’s phrasing and Arabic intonation, coupled with her strong, capable voice, meant that all four judges had no qualms about shouting out a “yes” to Koyasu, who promptly burst into tears.

Koyasu joins three other lucky participants who made the cut from Dubai: Karar Sultan, a 26-year-old man from Iraq; Humeid Abdulla, 23, from Fujairah; and Majed Al Madani, a 26-year-old oud player from Saudi Arabia.

For Al Madani, it was not his first experience with Arab Idol. Last year, during season two, his brother Fares managed to make it to the top 10, and Majed appeared alongside his brother on one of the episodes as a guest performer.

“His voice is amazing. I had asked him to audition for Arab Idol and it seems he listened to my advice,” said Ahlam, before he began his audition. Accompanied by his oud, Majed sang a Khaleeji song and thoroughly impressed all four judges. “This show was created for voices like yours,” said Kfoury, while Ahlam gave Majed a standing ovation.

And Abdulla managed to become not just the only Emirati to be chosen from the dozens that auditioned that day in Dubai, but also the first participant from the GCC to be chosen as well.

“When I first walked in to audition, I was so nervous and scared and anxious,” said Abdulla.

It all went away, though, when he started singing. Ahlam began applauding in the middle of his performance, and both Al Shafei and Kfoury sported pleased grins.

“When I started singing, the fatigue went away, the fear all went away,” said Abdulla. “I am so, so, so happy, and for the sake of the Emirates, God willing I will reach the finals.”

The very last audition that day was Karar Sultan, who was met by four exhausted and self-confessed fed-up judges. And although Sultan himself was tired — and terrified — he managed to get a “yes” from everyone except Kfoury.

Arab Idol screens Friday nights on MBC 1 from 10pm to midnight, repeating on Saturdays. It also screens online, post-show, at www.shahed.net