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Contestant From War-Torn Syria Wins 'Arab Idol'

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Contestant From War-Torn Syria Wins 'Arab Idol'

Middle East

Contestant From War-Torn Syria Wins 'Arab Idol'

Contestant From War-Torn Syria Wins 'Arab Idol'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/371126195/371126196" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Over the weekend, a champion was crowned in the Middle East's version of American Idol. Syrians cheered as 21-year-old Hazem Sherif from the war-scarred city of Aleppo was announced the winner.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And now to the art of song. "Arab Idol" is the Middle East version of that popular TV singing competition. From Beirut, NPR's Alice Fordham brings us news of its latest champion - a 21-year-old who gave a people with little to celebrate a reason to party.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ARAB IDOL")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Arabic).

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Even in Arabic, I bet you recognize this - the frenzy of reality TV show winner Hazem Sherif...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ARAB IDOL")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hazem Sherif.

(APPLAUSE)

FORDHAM: ...Being crowned after weeks of anticipation. Sherif was overcome with emotion as he won "Arab Idol." The immaculate young man with the pomaded hair had come a long way since he left Aleppo in the midst of war to seek work in Lebanon and watch from a distance as his country fell apart. It's the first time a Syrian's won the singing contest. To celebrate, Sherif launched into a patriotic song about writing his country's name on the unfading sun.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ARAB IDOL")

HAZEM SHERIF: (Singing in Arabic).

FORDHAM: And many of his compatriots partied along with him. Here's a cafe full of Syrians in Dubai.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hazem Sherif.

(APPLAUSE)

FORDHAM: And this is from the streets of Damascus.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: The man's saying, we didn't have anything to celebrate for ages. But in a country as polarized as Syria, even "Arab Idol" is political. In Sherif's hometown, Aleppo, the soldiers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rattled off rifle rounds in celebration. But then some asked, why isn't he waiving our flag? In a press conference after the show, Sherif refused to discuss the war. The following day he explained why in a TV interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV INTERVIEW)

SHERIF: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: I just came to "Arab Idol" to sing, he says, to forget the sadness and the pain of Syria's war, and I hope peace will return to the country. As with much reality TV - and war - the social media jokers had the last word. A picture of him on Facebook along with a regime flag, a rebel flag, a Kurdish flag and an Islamic State banner was captioned, now no one can get angry. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ARAB IDOL")

SHERIF: (Singing in Arabic).

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