A person can learn a lot about the complexity, the diversity, the openness, the inclusiveness, and the unpredictability of the Israeli society, especially the young generation, ages 12-30, by watching the singing competition, The Voice Israel, which is in its third year now.
For starter, the largest demographic group, the Israeli born Jewish demographic group are yet to produce a winner. The first year winner, Kathleen Reiter, is a new immigrant from Canada, who competed by signing in English and French; a disadvantage in Israel where most of the voters are teeagers, who their native language is Hebrew. The second year winner was a Technion Biology Student Lena Machol, an Arab Israeli young woman from Acre, who sings in Hebrew and English. If one wondered whether Israelis could leave politics aside, be fair, and vote based on talent alone when it comes to Arab Israelis, the answer was yes. Lena was voted as the best singer by Israeli teenagers, most of them Jewish.
This year singing contest has a diverse group of young people who come from many different places, diverse backgrounds, and some interesting stories. All of them want to be successful singers in Israel, a very difficult task in a small country, which is already saturated with excellent singers. Their chances of making a living as singers in Israel are slim. Yet, they are enthusiastic and driven as any candidates in a competition. This year competition is more difficult as in addition to the actual competition, the singers, the mentors, and the production had to deal with the Gaza war. The show had to be postponed after the auditions, as many of the people who were part of it were directly affected by the war. It is now back on the air. Here are some of their stories:
Eyal Cohen is a settler, living in the part of Israel which is called the West Bank or Samaria, depending on the political view of the speaker. What is uncontested, is the fact that this area will be most-likely become part of the Palestinian state, if and when it will be established. Jewish settlers like Eyal, religious Jewish zionists, strongly believe that this is part of Israel, that it was given to the Jewish people by G-D, and should never be separated from the rest of Israel. Most of the settlers belong right-wing political parties.Eyal came to the competition to sing. He has a great voice and a strong opinion about what he should sing and how to sing it. It gives his mentor limited flexibility to show other sides of Eyal.
Eyal surprised everyone when he chose a mentor who is a complete opposite of him, Aviv Geffen, an outspoken liberal who doesn’t believe in G-D and says it often. On the surface it seems that it was a bad decision, after all, a mentor that can’t relate to one of his singers, is likely to vote him out in the early stages. Yet, Aviv Geffen, with all the inflexibility that Eyal shows when it comes to song selection and how it should be played, continues to promote him to the advanced stages of the competition. Aviv does it because of Eyal’s talent and because he is fascinated by the contrasting views, and because he enjoys the ideological debate between them. It seems that both of them are learning from each other more than just music.
Shirel Bitan is a new immigrant from France. She is a mother for two children. She left France, leaving behid a successful career, where she starred in many musicals including The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. When she auditioned to the show, in an interview, she stated that she was actually offered the role of a mentor in the French version of The Voice before immigrating to Israel. Shirel is the daughter of the famous actress Jayne Mason. Her father is a known movie producer, who worked with Disney and Fellini. She left France and came to Israel for Zionist motives. Shirel is part of a large wave if Jews who are immigrating to Israel due to the rising of anti-semitism in France. As famous as she was in France, she is unknown in Israel. Participating in The Voice is her way of getting Israeli exposure. It was somewhat surprising that the mentors selected her for the show. The Voice Israel is a tough place for experienced singers who are looking to restart their career. The mentors prefer to work with green singers, whom they feel, could learn from them.
Shirel chose Shlomi Shabat as her mentor. Shlomi singing style is different from her. He is singing in what considered Oriental Style of singing. A unique Israeli style, which is a mix between typical middle eastern singing and typical Israeli singing. A style which is very popular,but one that for many years was not considered equal to other styles. Shlomi Shabat won last year’s competition with Lena Machol. Shirel is unlikely to sing in this style. Will she sing in Hebrew? Although she stated that she wanted to do so, it is unlikely that Shlomi Shabat, who marked her to get to the finals, will risk it…Time will tell.
Another surprising candidate is Jessica Katz, the niece of the famous movie director Steven Spielberg. Two years ago she came to Israel from New York. She wants to have a singing career in Israel. Jessica insists that she wants to be judged on her own merits, not because of her association to her famous uncle. She speaks Hebrew better than many other candidates, but so far she only sang in English. She is also mentored by Aviv Geffen who continues to believe in her despite some unflattering comments by other mentors.
Tal Flora Levi is an Israeli born, Jewish, competitor. She belongs to the largest demographic group in Israel, but the only advantage it gives her is to have a wider song selection variety, as she can sing in Hebrew and English. She was awarded a scholarship to the distinguished music school of Berkeley university in California. She postponed it to participate in the competition. Besides her talent, her unique hair style makes it easy to spot and remember her. She is mentored by Sarit Hadad, the only female singer mentor in the competition. Sarit also sings in the Israeli oriental style. However it didn’t stop her from winning with Kathleen Reiter, who sings in a completely different style.
Arina Popova arrived in Israel last year from Moscow, where she grew up and learned music. She is very talented musician in addition to being a singer. Before coming to Israel after her husband, she performed in Europe. While participating in the show, she continues to write music for European movies and commercials. Participation in the voice gives her the exposure she needs to develop her career as a musician in Israel. she is also on Aviv Geffen’s team.
Tamar Omar is sixreen years old, the youngest competitor. She comes from a small village in northern Israel. She was raised in a religious family. Her interest in music made her change her lifestyle (Jeans versus long dresses, etc.) Many predict that she’ll win this year’s contest. She is also on Aviv Geffen’s team.
Ohad Rein is an Israeli who had a successful singing career in Europe, Australia and Japan. Earlier in his career he was signed by the global music company Sony Entertainment. He performed in front of tens of thousands of people in Italy. Ohad returned to Israel with his wife and child and he is working on establishing his career in Israel. He considers himself as a songwriter who also sings. Aviv Geffen, his mentor in the show, convinced him to audition, however, this year Aviv Geffen’s team is loaded with talent, so nothing should be taken for granted.
Full episodes of the show can be seen on YouTube.
Selected performances by the competitors:
Kathleen Reiter singing in French in the competition
Lena Machol auditioning to The Voice Israel 2
Shirel Bitan auditioning to The Voice Israel 3
Shirel Bitan performing in The Voice Israel 3
Jessica Katz auditioning to The Voice Israel 3
Arina Popova sings in The Voice Israel 3
Eyal Cohen audition to The Voice Israel 3
Tal Flora Levi performing in the The Voice Israel 3
Ohad Rein auditioning to The Voice Israel 3
Niv Demirel performing in The Voice Israel 3
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