Over the last few months, on my columns and my social media, I have written extensively about the Arab Idol contestant, Yacoub Shaheen. Some of my friends and colleagues have asked me why I make such a fuss about the singer. The question has made me analyze my emotions when it comes to his new-found success. Would I publish the same if he wasn’t one of my own? Would I be encouraging all my friends to watch him, even if we didn’t share the same ethnicity and faith? Would I be as excited if he didn’t speak the same language as Jesus Christ, my mother tongue? If I couldn’t identify myself with him, then honestly, no, I probably wouldn’t follow Arab Idol at all.
We are a persecuted and decimated nation that has been through several genocidal campaigns: the most well known being Seyfo. During WWI, an order was given to the Ottoman Empire’s army to end Christianity from the face of the earth. The ethnicity that Yacoub and I belong to, Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs but also Armenians and Greeks, were nearly erased from that part of the world. Yacoubs Shaheen’s grandparents, and my own, experienced the same brutal ethno-religious cleansing.
In one of the episodes, he was asked to write something special-a message of love or a greeting to anyone close to him, even a simple hello to the viewers of the show. Instead, Yacoub wrote “Seyfo 1915,” to remind the world about his people’s suffering.
Arab Idol is one of the most watched TV-programs in the world. The show has regularly surpassed 100 million viewers.
Friday is the finale. Yacoub is one of three finalists. In the predominately Muslim part of the world, it is close to unbelievable that a Christian might win the most famous singing contest. But Yacoub has won the hearts of millions of people, regardless of religion or nation. His voice is strong and unique; it pierces the souls it reaches. His personality steals hearts. His humbleness, manners and politeness, give him a special kind of charisma. Almost all his performances have earned standing ovations from both the audience and judges.
I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago. He didn’t fell well, something was wrong with his stomach. When we hung up, I started to think hard about the pressure he must be going through. My last words to him were, “Hang in there, you are our voice, and we are all in this with you.”
I needed to speak to him again, but after watching last Friday’s show, I felt like I couldn’t bother him. In my first call with Yacoub, we discussed a little about his background, but I wanted to know more. I called his cousin, George, instead. He and Yacoub lived in the same village in Palestine. George helped piece together Yacoub’s story.
Yacoub holds a diploma in interior design from Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron. He also studied music at Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. After receiving the New Star Award, a national TV-show in Palestine, he dedicated the award (and the money he earned) to fashion. Now, he owns one of the trendier fashion shops in Bethlehem.
Yacoub is a middle brother; he has older and younger sisters, whom are very close to him. His family is not wealthy. For many years, his father, as many others in Bethlehem, worked in the handcrafting industry, making wooden souvenirs of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and other religious reliefs. His mother is a registration officer at Bethlehem University.
I asked George what makes Yacoub so special to all of them: why the church, and the entire community, was obsessed with him.
“Following his father's footsteps and values, besides music, Yacoub spends most of his time in cultural and community volunteering missions, such as spiritually enriching children through music. Yacoub is a member of the Syriac Orthodox Scout Club in Bethlehem, and he is well known for his loyalty to this club, and for his sensitivity and willingness to help orphans and disabled children. He always uses his talent in music…he sings for them on many occasions.”
After speaking to George, I took the step I was reluctant to take. I asked George to let me speak to his cousin, or to send a message from him. What does he want to tell the millions of people around the world who give him their support?
“No matter what the result will be, if I win the final or not, I feel grateful, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank, from the depths of my heart, all those who supported me in this journey. Without all of you, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Together, we were able to place our culture and nation where it deserves to be.”
Before I stopped bothering him during his hectic schedule, he had one last message:
“I would like to promise all of you who voted for me, that I will pray to God everyday to give me the strength to pay you back for the unlimited love and support you gave me. I hope my future work will give you all happiness and love, and that God will give me will be ability to do good deeds for those in need. I also want to thank the other contestants, the judges, and all those involved in the production, for all the support and the memories. I will have with me for rest of my life.”
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