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Palestinian superstar to sing with `New Star` contestants

May 12, 2011 5:04 P.M. (Updated: May 13, 2011 4:42 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The nine contestants performing Thursday on New Star, the Palestinian talent show for young singers in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, might be hoping some of the star quality of the guest performer, Palestinian-Jordanian singer Hani Mitwasi, will rub off on them.

Since January, hundreds of young hopefuls seeking fame have been putting their voices to the test on ‘New Star’, a program jointly-produced by Ma'an Network and Mix TV, and aired on NileSat frequency 10891 on Thursdays at 9 p.m.

Award-winning performer and well-known Palestinian heart-throb Hani Mitwasi will appear on the fourth episode filmed Thursday at Bethlehem-area village Al-Khader's Convention Palace.

Young singers seeking the title of 'New Star' have captivated Palestinian audiences across the region and abroad, New Star producer Rula Jawaliya said Wednesday.

"Last week we had 1,000 people in the audience, including competitors' families and VIPs," she said. "They come to watch from '48 [inside Israel] and across the West Bank, especially for the program.

"This program overcomes obstacles between the Palestinians," she continued, explaining it is watched by Palestinian and Arab audiences around the world.

"Even people from the United States are calling us to ask for our frequency [to watch the program]," she said.

Hani Mitwasi, who has released three albums that are well-known for melding old and new musical influences, said Wednesday that New Star would highlight Palestinians.

"When I tell other Arab artists that I'm coming to Palestine, they say to me 'Are you crazy? Aren't you scared of bombs and bullets?'" the singer told reporters ahead of the filming.

"I tell them that Palestine is the best place to sing, as people here appreciate music, they want to sing and have fun," Mitwasi said.

Ma'an Network's PR Manager Ala Al-Abed also stressed Wednesday the importance of the show in revealing that there is more to Palestine than conflict.

Calling New Star the largest musical talent competition in Palestinian history, he said "Palestinian media is working hard to show the world the situation of Palestine under the Israeli occupation and the suffering this causes.

"But we also need to show the world that Palestine has got talent! We have musicians, people who just want to live, and have fun."

At the same time Mitwasi cautioned against the overnight fame that comes with such televised singing contests.

"It’s not easy being a star," he said, adding that he still struggled with selecting music choices for his performances.

"Sometimes it is hard for new stars," he continued, "I've seen it happen. The program is finished and [the winner] is a star, he is recognized on the street, and sometimes he doesn't know how to continue."

"The easy thing is the competition, the hard work comes after."

So what advice can all the budding Hani Mitwasi's singing to win on Thursday take from the star? "My advice is you should be yourself," he said.

"A star is someone who is unique. If you sing Fairuz [well-known Egyptian singer], don't sing like Fairuz, but like yourself.

"It’s like me -- I am a package. I have an ok, nice voice, but with my guitar, my look, I am a package."

Mix Manager Amir Hamam affirmed the importance of developing a star beyond the high-profile television moments, noting that a finalist from the past series of New Star will appear on this years' show to perform a song produced for her by Mix.

Ma'an Network and Haifa-based Mix satellite TV agreed a partnership in September 2010 which has seen joint productions such as New Star, and Ma'an programs broadcast on Mix satellite frequency.

"We are proud of this partnership," Ma'an Network's Ala' Al-Abed said, "that is bringing together Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank and inside Israel."

Mix's Amir Hamam agreed, highlighting the talent of New Star finalist from Gaza Ahmad Assaf. "We will continue to support Assaf even if he doesn't make the final," Hamam said.

Assaf, who took part in auditions from Gaza via virtual links with the West Bank studios, "broke all walls to participate" in the program, Hamam said. We are one nation, and we are all Palestinians, he added.

The first series of New Star brought together Palestinian contestants from Israel, the second included Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza -- what could next year hold?

"We hope to include Palestinians from Jordan," Rula Jawaliya said, noting that the production team had already overcome significant obstacles to this year’s program set-up.

With two episodes to go before this series’ final, audiences are waiting to see which of Palestine’s ‘new stars’ will shine the brightest, and show Palestine as a place where fun is still alive.
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