Dec 09, 2013 11:58 PM EST | Louise Burton
An American singer was one of the final three competitors on Arab's Got Talent, the biggest televised talent show in the Middle East. Jennifer Grout, 23, sang traditional Arabic songs, impressing the judges with her interpretation and technique.
Grout may not have won the contest, held on December 7 in Beirut, Lebanon. No, that honor belongs to Sima, a dance troupe from Syria. But for an American to have gotten so far in the competition is an achievement in its own right.
After the internationally televised competition, Judge Najwa Karam said, "Jennifer's achievement is something that's made me very happy--it shows music is universal. When it comes to the arts, there are no barriers between us and any other people in the world. If language separates us, music unifies us."
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Listen to Grout's performance at the finals of Arab's Got Talent on December 7.
Grout, who currently lives in Morocco, has a background in Western classical music. She grew up in the Boston area and studied music and opera at McGill University in Montreal.
Three years, ago, Grout heard this Middle Eastern style of singing for the first time.
"I came across an article online about the famous Lebanese singer Fairouz, and I was just really mesmerized by her singing," Grout told CNN. "It was like nothing I had heard before."
Jennifer decided to study Arabic. She also learned how to play the oud, a traditional Arabic stringed instrument that is similar to a lute.
After graduation, she moved to Morocco, where she learned the traditional Berber style of singing and began performing in Jemaa el Fnaa Square in Marrakesh.
For her audition to win a spot on the pan-Arabic talent show, Grout chose to sing a song by legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthoum, who is revered throughout the region. Few Arab singers would choose to sing her songs for fear of being compared to the legendary Egyptian diva.
Grout's Arabic wasn't fluent enough to understand what the judges were saying to her before her audition. But once she started strumming her oud and singing, she won them over. The judges were impressed, not just with her singing, but that she had chosen to cover a song by the revered singer.
This video, from her audition, shows her singing said song.
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