The audience chuckled when Jennifer Grout, a white, shy 23-year-old from Massachusetts, first walked on the stage of Arabs Got Talent with her oud. Although she professes to speak no Arabic, Grout then stunned the judges with her rendition of Umm Kathoum's “Baeed Anak,” and now actually has a chance at winning the finale which airs in less than two weeks.
“You don’t speak a word of Arabic, yet you sing better than some Arab singers! ” exclaimed Najwa Karam, a famous Lebanese singer and judge of the panel, after her 28 September performance. “We have for so long imitated the West, and this the first time that a person who has no link whatsoever to the Arab world, an American girl who does not speak Arabic, sings Arabic songs!”
Another judge, Ali Jaber, journalist and director of the channel MBC, the channel that broadcasts “Arabs Got Talent,” was also wowed by Grout’s performance. “You've just done an excellent performance… You have a very beautiful voice and you transmit strong emotions… I predict a promising future for you, ” he said.
After her success, Grout proceeded to the next round of judging on 9 November in her stunning performance of “Ya Toyour,” from legendary Syrian singer Asmahan. Decked in a feathered, blue dress, with wind blowing through her hair, Grout’s voice seemingly flew into the sky as her voice mimicked the rhythms of a singing bird.
Surprised, one of the hosts asked Grout backstage if she really spoke no Arabic at all. “No, I sing it, I don't speak it,” Grout laughed. “I only understand because I look up the translation online or I have one of my Arab friends do a translation for me.”
Amazed at her ability to sing in Arabic so flawlessly with no ability to speak it, many critics insist that her story doesn’t match up. “There's lots of rumors that I'm not actually American,” Grout told the Guardian. “I’m very flattered by that because it means I’m doing something that is … unbelievable. ”
Grout, who has been studying music since she was young as both her parents are musicians, says she first started playing the oud three years ago. “I heard Arabic music on the internet and I just absolutely fell in love with it,” she told MBC.
Since then, Grout says she’s been listening to Arabic music and practicing all the time. “It's just what my heart told me to do,” she said.
Grout will face tough competition on 7 December when the show airs its finale, including Mayam Mahmoud, 18, who is Egypt’s first veiled rapper.
Videos of Grout singing can be seen at the links below: