When a kid from the neighborhood succeeds in staying in musical competition show X-Factor Israel, it’s constant fodder for conversation.
“She really seems like herself,” said one 15-year-old boy, who’s friends with one of her siblings.
“Yeah, but she’s too stiff onstage,” said his older sister. “She needs to loosen up.”
“She shouldn’t have sung ‘Skyfall’,” said their father. “It wasn’t the right piece for her.”
Tamar Friedman, from the overwhelmingly Anglo enclave of Baka in southern Jerusalem, is the contestant in question, a soft-spoken 18-year-old with arresting eyes and a fall of long chestnut hair. But it’s her clear, soaring voice that won her that first audition for the current season of X-Factor Israel and has kept her there, round after round.
Mentored by Rami Fortis, Israel’s so-called father of punk, Friedman, the child of American immigrant parents, has clearly benefitted from his caring, almost grandfatherly attitude since he first chose to shepherd her through the process. He’s “like a second dad,” she said.
“He calls me after every show and asks me how it felt; he’s a great person,” she said. In fact, Friedman had no idea who he was at first, having only vaguely heard of Fortisakharov, the duo of Fortis and Barry Sakharov. Now, she said, she’s a fan of his music.
As for Fortis, he was clearly captivated by Friedman’s initial performance, a soulful version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Since then, he’s been rooting for her, shown meditating at his home – where she has been staying with her fellow contestants – and peering worriedly through his thick-framed glasses when pondering which of his contestants won’t be making it through the next round.
Not every judge feels the same way about Friedman. It’s fairly clear that Shiri Maimon, a pop singer who also rose to fame from another musical competition, “A Star is Born,” isn’t as captivated by Friedman. And nor is Ivri Lider, the pop singer who’s part of TYP, The Young Professionals. But that’s the system on X-Factor, where each judge roots for the singers they’re mentoring, motivating and coaching through the rigorous rounds of performances.
Devoted fans weren’t pleased with Fortis’s song choice for Friedman in her first live performance. Dressed in a white mini-dress with a space-age look, she sang “Skyfall,” the theme song originally sung by Adele, from the James Bond film of the same name — which was Fortis’s idea, said Friedman.
“He offered me ‘SkyFall’ and I said it wasn’t really me, but then I tried it, and thought, why not?” she said.
Viewers were almost surprised when Friedman made it through that live round. There had been much discussion prior to the performance that she lacks stage presence, and tends to stand woodenly on stage. But she has that magnificent voice, one that electrifies the audience each time, even when the song doesn’t quite fit it. During her singing of “SkyFall,” it was fairly clear that Friedman wasn’t comfortable with the song, or the staging, which included an orchestra and was over-the-top in terms of the glitz factor.
“I think, to be honest, that the problem was that the music went over my voice,” commented Friedman. “It was also my first live performance.”
Luckily, she made it through the round, due in no small part to the voting system in which viewers can send their votes by SMS to the show, and each person can vote up to 25 times. With a solid bloc of fans, thanks to the supportive circle of friends, neighbors and Friedman’s classmates from Reut, the pluralistic high school that Friedman attends, the public relations effort has been constant and fierce, and that has to help.
But it was Friedman’s last two rounds — first when she sang while playing guitar, dressed more casually (although her hair was still straightened), and then, in her most recent performance, in which she was accompanied by her father, Jeff Friedman, who played a baby grand — that clinched her real image, offering a more appropriate setting and song for her voice. Both songs were also in Hebrew, and it seemed clear, both from Friedman’s performance and her fans’ reaction, that she’s more comfortable singing in Hebrew, performing songs that are part of her regular repertoire.
It was Tamar’s idea to perform with her father, something they’ve always done together, and he “immediately liked the idea” as well, she said. Dressed in a gown, with her beaming father nearby, a small kippah perched on his head, it felt like the viewers were in their living room, albeit surrounded by bright lights and a dais of judges.
For now, Friedman’s waiting for the next round, but at the same time, says she doesn’t feel a sense of urgency about winning. The winners of X-Factor – in the youth, adult and group categories — get an album deal among other treats, but Friedman said she “doesn’t really feel the sense of competition.”
“We’re building these relationships and we’re all living together,” she said. “If someone else wins, or if I’m out next, I would still make sure to root for them.”
In fact, she said, “I still can’t quite believe I’ve made it this far.”