A petite 23-year-old American who sings in Arabic, a language she does not speak, and strums the oud, the Arabic version of the lute, has mesmerized millions from Beirut to Baghdad on “Arabs Got Talent,” and sparked controversy across the Middle East as viewers tuned in, and made her a sensation.
Jennifer Grout, who hails from Cambridge, Mass., but lives in Morocco, crooned classic Arabic love song “Wahashtini” (I’ve Missed You) during the finals on the MBC network Dec. 7, but wound up losing to Syrian dance troupe Sima, which performed to an electro-rock soundtrack, with choreography that evoked the autocratic rule of some Middle East leaders.
To reach the finals, Grout survived six weeks of competition from various hip-hoppers; a Moroccan juggler; and Saudi geek Ahmed Al Dousary, whose talent was to bite the head off a live snake.
Grout had plenty of fans, but also came under fire for being an outsider.
“So many times I’ve heard the comment ‘It’s “Arabs Got Talent” — go back to America,’ ” she told the New York Times. “It’s like I’m starting an invasion, when really I just love singing Arabic music.”
At the closing press conference, Lebanese multiplatinum pop star and jury member Najwa Karam was quick to sing Grout’s praises.
“Music is the one thing that unites all different citizens, because it’s made up of seven notes that the whole world can understand — you don’t need a single word to express it,” she said. “So to me, Jennifer acts as a bridge between East and West.”