Bostonian Jennifer Grout, 23, reaches final of Arabs Got Talent
- Jennifer Grout got hooked after watching a video of a Lebanese singer
- She had been raised singing in choirs and playing the piano and violin
- Student then asked for a one-way ticket to Morocco as a graduation gift
- Some have jokingly questioned whether she is actually western at all
- Judge told her in disbelief: 'You don't speak a word of Arabic'
By Dan Bloom
PUBLISHED: 06:03 EST, 26 November 2013 | UPDATED: 08:54 EST, 26 November 2013
An American singer has stunned a TV audience of millions - by reaching the final of a top Middle East talent show.
Jennifer Grout, 23, had a 'Susan Boyle moment' on Arabs Got Talent when she sang in Arabic with a traditional lute, despite not even understanding the words 'What's your name?'.
The classically-trained singer who was raised on Bach and Mozart is now through to the final of the TV show, one of the most popular in the Arab world.
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Pitch-perfect: Jennifer Grout, 23, has wowed the judges on Arabs Got Talent - despite speaking no Arabic
Jennifer Grout spent two decades singing in choirs then took a one-way trip to Morocco
One of the judges, Lebanese singer Najwa Karam, told her: 'You don't speak a word of Arabic, yet you sing better than some Arab singers!', Morocco World News reported.
'We have for so long imitated the West, and this the first time that a person who has no whatsoever link to the Arab world, an American girl who does not speak Arabic, sings Arabic songs.'
Jennifer - from Cambridge, Massachusetts - was raised singing in choirs and playing the violin.
But in 2010 she found a video by the Lebanese singer Fairouz and got hooked on Arabic music, buying a traditional lute-like instrument called an oud.
She asked for a one-way ticket to Morocco for her college graduation gift and she has been living there since last year.
Come again? Jennifer Grout at her audition - where she did not understand the judge's introduction
Susan Boyle moment: American Jennifer Grout blew away a giggling audience by covering Umm Kulthum
The show also features 18-year-old Mayam Mahmoud, Egypt's first hajib-wearing rapper, who is praised for standing up for women's rights. She said she wanted to rap not 'about any old thing but something with value'
LOST IN TRANSLATION: SINGERS WHO SWITCHED TO ENGLISH
Foreign singers have always learned English to conquer the pop market - but it rarely works the other way round.
Swedish 1970s pop icons ABBA launched their career in English instead of their mother tongue to win over more foreign fans.
Colombian diva Shakira (above) had a huge audience in Latin America but hit the big time when she released her fifth album Laundry Service in English in 2001.
Spanish-American crooner Enrique Iglesias was born in Madrid but sang his hit single Hero in English, earning himself global fame.
Puerto Rican singer Enrique Martín Morales had limited success in a boy band - until he adopted the stage name Ricky Martin for his hit Livin' La Vida Loca (the crazy life).
Iceland's postmodern darling Bjork sings in English, earning her an eclectic audience all over the world.
And radio stations in France have even tried to stop singers deserting their mother tongue - by dictating that at least 40 per cent of playlists must be in French.
'I've been working on it and practicing a lot and I listen to it all the time,' she told the show. 'I get a translation or I have one of my Arab friends do a translation for me.
'It was a little bit strange for my family in the beginning, but now they totally support what i do. They pushed me to come here to Lebanon to do the show.'
She won over the audience on the talent show by singing Baeed Anak (Away From You) by Umm Kulthum, one of the most celebrated singers in Egypt's history.
She also sings in the Berber dialects of traditional communities in Algeria, Morocco, Lybia, Mali, Niger and Tunisia.
She told Good Morning America: 'About 30 seconds into it, I think everybody was very surprised. I felt really proud, because the audience went from not taking me seriously to like, wow she's good.'
Jennifer is now up against top performers from across the Middle East and North Africa including one of the world's first hijab-wearing rappers and a Saudi stand-up comic.
The rapper, Egyptian Mayam Mahmoud, 18, could pose stiff competition - as she has been praised for standing up for women's rights in the conservative Middle East.
The show is in its third season and is a spin-off from Britain's Got Talent and America's Got Talent.
Her success is so great, there are even rumours she is not actually from the West.
Professor Virginia Danielson, Umm Kulthum's biographer, told The Guardian: 'Her resonance – that slightly nasal sound – is particularly compelling and very expressive in this style of singing.
'Her voice is strong, very pretty and she commands the style of the repertory very well.
'If I were going to criticise, I'd say the rhythmic structure of the piece escapes her a bit, but otherwise she sang very well, I thought.'
All-American girl: Jennifer Grout grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, singing in choirs and playing the violin
Talent: Jennifer, 23, has become a star appearing in media all over the world, from Egypt to the U.S.
The show, a spin-off of Britain's Got Talent and America's Got Talent, also features a hijab-wearing rapper