Shada Hassoun united country with 'Star' win

BAGHDAD — Iraqi singing sensation Shada Hassoun, who in March won the fourth season of the Lebanese talent show “Star Academy,” plans a tour of relatively safe Iraqi Kurdistan in the coming weeks to greet her fans.

Despite her Iraqi nationality, the quick trip to Irbil and Sulaimaniyah with Lebanese singers will mark the chestnut-haired singer’s first time in the country.

Born in Morocco, the 26-year-old lays claim to her Iraqi nationality through her father, who hails from southern Iraq.

Despite Hassoun’s tenuous connection with Iraq, however, Iraqis of all sects embraced her wholeheartedly during the “Star Academy” contest — a format based on “Fame Academy” — hosted by Lebanon’s LBC.

Through incessant text messages by mobile phone, Iraqis helped propel her to victory in the contest, which carried a first prize of $50,000 in cash and a new car.

With few heroes on an ever-bleaker landscape, Iraqis warmed to her as she engendered a rare sense of national cohesion. More pointedly, with uncertainty over whether she’s Sunni or Shiite, both sects claimed her.

“Sunnis and Shiites will unite with your victory!” read one text message sent by a viewer during the contest.

“You are the one who unites all of Iraq, from North to South, from the Tigris to the Euphrates!”

Others gave less-esoteric reasons for her popularity — her slinky dresses and sensual dancing symbolized a freedom unknown in Iraq.

Launched in 2003, “Star Academy” has become one of the most widely viewed programs across the Arab world.

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