'Arab Idol' finalist Mohammed Assaf carries Palestinian hopes
By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com
Mohammed Assaf, 23-year-old Palestinian "Arab Idol" finalist from Gaza. (MCB1)
People gather around their televisions, ready to root on their hometown favorite in a star-making reality competition, text in their votes, and hope fervently for the win.
It sounds just like "The Voice," "Dancing With the Stars" or even that behemoth, "American Idol."
But the show in question isn't filmed in Los Angles or London -- it's made in Beirut. And for the contestants of "Arab Idol," winning means more than just fame and fortune.
"Arab Idol" is the Middle Eastern cousin of the American show and its British parent "Pop Idol," with the same format, stage design and even theme music.
Now in its second season, the finale of "Arab Idol" airs Saturday night.
At stake are the futures of three young contestants: Farah Youssef, a 25-year-old who barely made it out of Syria when her car was caught in the middle of a shootout, Ahmad Jamal, the 25-year-old from Egypt, and Mohammad Assaf.
Assaf, a 23-year-old Palestinian, has become a fan favorite who only made it into the Cairo tryouts when another would-be contestant handed over his number. He is the first Palestinian to make it into the contest, and his countrymen are thrilled at his success.
Palestinians have thrown their support behind their native son, who is thought to be a favorite to win the competition. Even President Mahmoud Abbas has urged Palestinians to vote, and Palestinian mobile companies are slashing text rates to encourage people to keep voting.
"I still ask myself how all this happened," Assaf said, adding that he hopes his story will inspire his people. "Anybody who has hope for a better future, and who has dreams and ambitions to make his dreams a reality, will make it."