Morocco’s Hamza Lebyed and Iraqi superstar Kadim Al-Sahir win The Voice Kids

Moroccan Hamza Labyad (second left) reacts to being named the winner of season two of the ‘The Voice Kids: Ahla Sawt’ on February 3, 2018, at the Pan Arab Satellite MBC TV Station studios in Zouk Mosbeh, north of the capital Beirut. — AFP

There were smiles and tears (and tears of joy) on Saturday night as The Voice Kids wrapped up its second season in front of a live audience in Beirut. Broadcast on MBC, the junior talent quest saw Morocco’s Hamza Lebyed triumph to gain the title, beating out five other finalists (all aged between 7 and 14 years old). In addition to a sliver trophy and recording contract with Dubai-based music label, Platinum Records, Lebyed’s prize also includes a 200,000 Saudi riyal (Dh195,881) education scholarship, as well as family trips to both Disneyland Paris and London. “This is amazing. It is like a dream,” said Lebyed during the media scrum after the show.

Al-Sahir’s winning streak
“I had a very good feeling that if I did my best and did what my coach Kadim Al-Sahir said, then I had a good opportunity to win this.” Indeed, the Iraqi crooner Al-Sahir is developing into a specialist when it comes to spotting talent. Lebeyed’s victory marks back-to-back coaching titles for Sahir: the “Ceaser of the Arabic Song” was also responsible for steering the 13-year-old Lebanese singer Lynn Al Hayek to win the inaugural season in 2016. He also guided the Iraqi singer Sattar Saad to win the second season of The Voice Ahla Sawt (the adult version) in 2014.

“What I can say is that I take this responsibility very seriously,” Sahir told us after the show. “When I was first offered the opportunity to be coach on The Voice Kids I was scared as I didn’t know if I could be the person to get the best out of children. So I actually studied about it and read books on this topic. No matter who wins, this competition has touched me deeply and I learned a lot from the experience.”

Classic songs get noticed
Lebyed’s win also marks a change in musical style when it comes to The Voice Kids finals. Where Hayek’s victory last year was paved by energetic pop numbers, Saturday night’s selections were more vintage, with Lebeyed successfully covering Qadak Al-Mayas by Syrian tenor Sabah Fakhry and Anta Fain Wal Houb Fain by the Um Kulthum.
That wasn’t the only track by the late Egyptian diva sung during the final, Egypt’s Ashraqat Ahmed – mentored by pop-star and compatriot Tamer Hosny – did a fine job of channeling the wistful yearning of the 1961 classic Hayrat Qalb Maak. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Lagai Al-Masrhy kept it close to home with a slick performance of Dhalim wa Lakin by the late crooner Talal Madah.

Ultimately, it’s a competition
Trained by Lebanese pop queen Nancy Ajram, the 10-year-old Saudi’s superb performance and onstage charisma resulted in the first big upset of the night. When the public deemed, through SMS voting, that Al Masrhy had knocked out the favorite – the competent and supremely photogenic George Assi – both kids burst into tears. It was the same case for the impossibly adorable Maraya Qahtani; under the watchful eye of Sahir, the eight-year-old Yemeni grew to become a confident and agile performer.

However, her sheer sass was not enough to overcome Lebeyed’s vocal range, and her dismissal was tough to take. It is in these human moments that The Voice Kids stands out from the plethora of talent quests. We genuinely feel for these young contestants. Qahtani couldn’t hide her tears when she returned for a group number after being voted out; a clearly affected Al-Sahir – both a father and grandfather – comforted the inconsolable singer during the break.

Too much pressure on the children?
This begs the question, are such competitions putting way too much pressure on young children? “I understand that people feel this way sometimes,” Hosny said to us after the show wrapped up. “But this is ultimately a positive program about the power of having dreams and ambitions. We are trying to teach them from a young age what it means to work hard and have a sense of drive. Yes, there will be disappointment, but that’s because we treat the kids as adults. We want them to understand what it means to overcome challenges. If we lay that imprint within these contestants, then we are helping create a better generation.”

While Ajram agrees with that sentiment, she said the teaching goes both ways. “It’s not just these kids who are learning from us,” she says. “I have learned so much from spending time with them. I see them go out and be brave each week. When they don’t make it they get disappointed, but not long after I see them happy again and supporting the other competitors. There is innocence there that I think we can all learn from.” On that score, we will see how the adults fare when The Voice Ahla Sawt returns for its fourth season on Saturday

This article was published on 04/02/2018