25 February 2017
Amman - The Palestinian city of Bethlehem is going all out this week in support of the town’s nominee to the television music contest “Arab Idol.”
Yacoub Shaheen, the city’s beloved son, will be competing on Friday along with fellow Palestinian Ameer Dandan and the Yemeni Ammar Mohammed.
The city council has decided to erect a giant television screen at Nativity Square for both the Friday night audition and the Saturday event’s announcement of the finalist winner.
The public has been invited to come to the square to celebrate the program.
Mohammed Assaf, the winner of the second season of “Arab Idol,” is expected to be a guest singer at the music event.
Fadi Ghattas, press officer at Bethlehem Municipality, told Arab News that the city is supportive of Shaheen, who is well known locally.
“Yacoub has been our favorite musical guest for years. He has sung at Christmas events, (a) diaspora conference and many other public events,” Ghattas said. “Ameer Dandan and Yacoub Shaheen are sons of Palestine. No matter which … wins, Palestine will be victorious.”
Ghattas says that the municipality has reached an agreement with the local Palestinian cellphone company Jawwal to help increase the number of votes. “Jawwal agreed to lower the cost of the votes via SMS to 1.9 shekels (50 cents) for the Palestinian candidates.” he said.
To show support for Yacoub, the mayor of Bethlehem has decided to attend the “Arab Idol” final. “Mayor Vera Baboun will be traveling to the Lebanese capital Beirut to be in the audience at the final competition for MBC’s fourth season of its flagship talent program,” Ghattas said.
While Shaheen has been a popular participant in the pan-Arab talent show, some Palestinians are worried that votes for Palestinian singers might be split thus helping the Yemeni participant overcome both of them.
Tania, a young Palestinian from Ramallah, told Arab News that she is worried that neither Shaheen nor Dandan will win. “I have been following Yacoub and Ameer from day one and I am really worried that neither will win because of the danger of wasted votes,” the 24-year-old Palestinian said.
Dandan, who was born in the Galilee village of Majd Al-Krum, has been living in the US.
Another Majd Al-Krum son, Haitham Khalailah, reached the finals in the third season of “Arab Idol” in 2014 only to lose to Syrian singer Hazem Sharif.
Joseph Shaheen, Yacoub’s father, is not worried. Speaking to Arab News by phone from his home in Bethlehem, Shaheen Sr. said that his son has been asked to perform in future concerts by the “Arab Idol” maker MBC.
“By reaching the finals Yacoub has already won. MBC has signed him up for many concerts in the coming months in Sweden, Germany and the US, regardless of the result in the final competition.”
Joseph Shaheen said that his son has been singing since he was a child. “He used to sing at the Freres School where he went, at the Syrian Church and at all kinds of public events. We sent him to the Edward Said Conservatory in Ramallah where he spent two years learning music and being able to read notes.”
Joseph Shaheen said his son had been under a lot of pressure and suffered in the past few weeks with inflammation in his vocal chords. The contestant also had a high fever, but he is much better now as he prepares for the finale, Shaheen Sr. said.
Shaheen told Arab News that his son, who calls him almost nightly, had urged cash-strapped Palestinians to save their money. “He told me, ‘I have lots of supporters around the world, please tell people not to spend their money for me,’” he said. But Shaheen Sr. said that people were voting out of love and support to Yacoub and were doing it voluntarily and happily.
One source of many votes has been the Assyrian community around the world. Shaheen, whose ancestors came from northern Syria, has been getting votes from Sweden and other countries that host a considerable Assyrian community.
Yacoub Shaheen’s popularity has been credited to his vocal skills, especially in the “mawwal” genre of Arabic music. His mawwal was so popular that midway through the competition Egyptian Hassan El-Shafei, one of the “Arab Idol” judges, called Yacoub’s voice intoxicating. “Your voice should be banned from people because it is intoxicating. I was hoping that your song today would be the final song because I don’t want to have any other song in my memory.”
Lebanese music star Wael Kfoury said that Shaheen has all the elements of a star. “I would like to reserve from now tickets to your upcoming concerts,” Kfoury said.
The “Arab Idol” final will take place in Beirut on Friday and will be broadcast on MBC1. The winning announcement of this season’s Arab Idol will be made the following evening in a program that will be screened on a huge screen in Bethlehem’s Nativity Square. If Shaheen wins, the people of this Palestinian city will have a badly needed opportunity to celebrate.