It was a top three finish for Dubai’s Shamma Hamdan on Friday night’s live final of Arabs Got Talent in Beirut.The 18-year-old singer-songwriter lost out to Saudi Arabia’s illusionist collective Khawater Al Thalam (Thoughts of Darkness) in what was a colourful curtain-closer to the talent show’s second season.
The winning group will return to Saudi Arabia having pocketed 500,000 Saudi riyals (Dh490,000) and a new Chevy Camaro, not to mention instant stardom across the Arab world.
The final episode showcased 12 finalists truly living up to the programme’s ideal.
Among them were an Algerian soul singer, an Egyptian acrobat, a Moroccan percussion collective and a Jordanian music teacher who invented an instrument out of a straw.
The Egyptian circus performer Hussein Ramsy had the Saudi comic judge Nasser Al Qasabi saying silent prayers as he delicately posed on top of three cylinders with trays of bottles while twirling three fire sticks before juggling four pins.
The cheeky Saudi comic Muhannad Al Jameely’s monologue turned his puns on the judges. “After I won the competition, I sold the car and lost all the money,” he began, before detailing his marriage woes and finishing off proposing to the Lebanese pop-star judge Najwa Karam.
He was followed by the Jordanian multi-instrumentalist Hassen Maynawi, the programme’s feel-good story.
Seeing his students despair at the lack of availability of inexpensive instruments, Maynawi transformed a mere straw into an instrument that sounds almost identical to a traditional Arabic instrument called the mijwiz.
To underscore the uncanny resemblance, the Jordanian and a 13-piece backing band played the famous Lebanese dabka Ya Aboud with the crowd clapping along.
With the judges stripped of their eliminating powers, they settled for cheerleading instead.
Karam had nothing but praise for each contestant while fellow judge, the Lebanese journalist and academic Ali Jaber, kept his straight-talking persona to a minimum.
Ironically, it was the show’s “Mr Nice Guy” Al Qasabi who injected some edge to the panel.
Unfortunately, one of his targets was none other than our Emirati contestant Shamma Hamdan, performing another Khaleeji standard on acoustic guitar near the end of the programme. “To be honest with you, I think it could have been better,” he said, to jeers from the audience.
“I was waiting for something bigger to take me but it didn’t come.”
Al Qasabi’s hopes were answered in the penultimate act and by the eventual winners, Khawater Al Thalam.
The 13-member crew produce silent theatre and illusions through glow-in-the-dark set pieces.
For the final, they once again plunged the studio into darkness as they created the illusionary tale of a deep sea diver – courtesy of a member descending from the roof of the stage – dodging sharks and sealife (rendered through black clad members shuffling across the stage and holding glow-in-the-dark fishes) to extract a pearl.
Speaking on the winning group’s next move, the Khawater Al Thalam leader Mamdouh Khidary said the grand plan was to perform on one of the biggest stages of all.
“Our goal is Las Vegas,” he said.
“When you are doing a show like ours, that is the place where you need to be in order for you to make it. If we come to Vegas, we don’t need to go to the world. Instead, the world will come to us.”