American without Arab roots almost wins "Arabs Got Talent"

Sun Dec 8, 2013 12:00pm EST
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BEIRUT (Reuters) - An American singer with no Arab heritage nearly took the top prize in the "Arabs Got Talent" television show this weekend, breaking into the top three alongside a Palestinian artist and a Syrian dance troupe.

Jennifer Grout, a 23-year-old from Massachusetts, fell just short in the end, but her renditions of classical Arabic songs had stunned some audiences - especially given that she only speaks a little Arabic.

Late on Saturday night, Grout vied with an eclectic set of contestants for the show's third season finale, including a Moroccan juggler, Kuwaiti comedians, an Egyptian "popper," a Lebanese drummer, and an acrobatics squad dressed as Pharaohs.

Dressed in a flowing white gown, Grout sang "Wahashtini" (I've Missed You), a classic by Lebanese-Egyptian singer Souad Mohamed.

The judges praised her voice and her enthusiasm for classic Arabic music - much of it relatively unknown outside the Middle East - at a time when many commentators lament that Western cultural hegemony has eroded the region's distinct identity.

Grout lives in Morocco and organizers said it was not necessary to be an Arab to compete.

"I believe Jennifer is a phenomenon we should celebrate," Saudi Arabian comedian Nasser al-Qasaibi said.

Egyptian actor Ahmed Helmy played on the idiosyncrasies of his country's dialect - the Arabic alphabet's "J" is pronounced as a "G" in Egyptian - to commend Grout's talents.

"From today, you're no longer 'Jennifer,' you're 'Gennifer'," he said.   Continued...

Contestant Jennifer Grout of the U.S. performs during the Season 3 finale of "Arabs Got Talent" in Zouk Mosbeh area, north of Beirut December 7, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammed Azakir