Shada's Singing Lifts Iraqi Spirits Through war and intense sectarian violence, one person has united many Iraqis. Shada Hassoon is a 25-year-old singer, one of four finalists on Star Academy, a Lebanese TV program.
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Shada's Singing Lifts Iraqi Spirits

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Shada's Singing Lifts Iraqi Spirits


Now Here's a story about a person who's getting people talking in Iraq. She's a 25-year-old Iraqi singer and one of the four finalists in a television program that's part "Big Brother" and part "Arabic Idol."

NPR's Graham Smith reports from Baghdad.

GRAHAM SMITH: If you want to see an Iraqi face light up, mention the name Shada.

SHADA ("Star Academy" Contestant): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

SMITH: Shada Hassoon is Iraq's entry into the program called "Star Academy," carried 24 hours a day out of Lebanon. Viewers see the contestants eating, sleeping, hanging out and practicing - learning to be stars.

In December, there were 19 contestants from all over the Arab world. Now two men and two women remain, one of them is Shada. It's the farthest an Iraqi has made in the history of the show. She left Iraq when she was a child, but her Arabic still carries a heavy Iraqi accent. Here, she's squabbling with other contestants.

Unidentified Man (Foreign language spoken)

SHADA: (Foreign language spoken)

SMITH: In parts of the program where bunkrooms are shown, you can see a large Iraqi flag over her bed, and Iraqis are crazy about her.

Ms. FARAH ALI(ph): (Through translator) All of us follow it from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed.

SMITH: Farah Ali is a Baghdad homemaker.

Ms. ALI: (Through translator) We voted many times. We send text messages but they don't always get through. Today is the big day and we can't wait.

SMITH: Friday nights there are big production numbers and eliminations. And tonight the final winner will be selected based on votes from viewers registered by cell phone. Each contestant is numbered. For Shada, vote three.

(Soundbite of cell phone ringing)

SMITH: Young and old, Shiite and Sunni, they are voting. Sarah Sinan(ph) is 10.

Ms. SARAH SINAN: (Through translator) If my mother is watching another channel, I'll tell her to turn it to "Star Academy." I see it every day, and I voted 10 times.

SMITH: People who sell phone cards say sales are way up, with people buying $30 and $40 worth. The broadcast shows a scrolling tally of support along the bottom of the screen. Basra University loves Shada. 333Ali from Kurdistan. You are the one Shada - Diyala(ph). All of Iraq is with you - Baghdad.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: This performance earlier in the season had a tone of sadness. Shada is dressed in black, as are her fellow contestants, backing her as a chorus. It's a famous song in the region from the '60s.

SHADA: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

SMITH: Baghdad, with your poets and pictures, you are the gold of times. You are the perfumed light. At the end of what's been a bloody week here, suicide bombings having killed almost 200 in the past 24 hours, tonight will be a small respite, a chance to vote and to hope for an Iraqi victory.

Graham Smith, NPR News, Baghdad.

SHADA: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)


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