"A Jewish Star" Contest Holds Finals Performance

Avraham Fried, Yossi Green, Eli Gerstner & others to judge 3rd annual "A Jewish Star" singing contest with entries from all over the world.

Ben Bresky ,

A Jewish Star music contest
A Jewish Star music contest

Twelve finalists from around the world will perform at the third annual "A Jewish Star" signing competition on March 19th in New York City. The contest is an opportunity for Jewish musicians to express themselves in a Jewish themed singing contest.

The man behind the scenes is the soft spoken organizer and advertising executive Yossi Soffer. Together with his wife Mica, they arranged the judges, performance, website presence and voting procedures. Soffer spoke to Arutz Sheva's music department about the show. 

To download the mp3 click here.

"In the Jewish music world,  the people who are talented are restrained," said Soffer. "They have no platform to shine. A lot of times you see teenagers looking for other places to express themselves because there is no real kosher outlet for them. This creates it for them," he stated.

The 8 adult finalists and 4 junior finalists were narrowed down from 17 semifinalists. They hail from Israel, the United States, Belarus, Mexico and South Africa. Other countries represented by the contestants have been France, Ajerbaijan, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Australia and other locations. Prizes include a two-year lease on a new car and $5,000.

Soffer says that several contestants have pledged to give a significant amount of the prize money to charity if they win. Others plan to use the money to fund a professional album or music video as a way to jump start a music career. Last year's junior competition winner, 13-year-old Yisroel Amar, released his debut full length CD two weeks ago. 

Among the trials and tribulations of the competition included a premature birth. The wife of one of the finalists went into premature labor resulting in a healthy baby. But it almost resulted in the singer canceling his ticket to New York and foregoing the concert finale.

Another contestant from out-of-town called up two weeks before rehearsals and said he didn't have the funds for the plane flight. "His entire community collected money for him to make his dream come true," Soffer stated. "We have ups and down like a roller coaster." 

The judges are well-known personalities in the Jewish entertainment world. Singer Avraham Fried, comedian Mendy Pellin and music producer Eli Gerstner and composer Yossi Green have been voting for or against their the contestants. The special guest performer at the finale will be musician Lipa Schmeltzer. 

There were 115 contestants for the 2012 competition. Over 500,000 votes were cast online, an upswing from 262,000 votes in 2011. "There is a lot of talent and they are all very good," Soffer said. He related a comment that one of the producers told him he was happy he would not have to attempt to make the final decision. 

One of the finalists submitted a song in English about the stabbing murder of five members of the Fogel family by terrorists in Itamar last year. Soffer said the judges took the entry very emotionally. "Not even one of them sat still," he stated. "Not only because the guy has a gorgeous voice, but the story is an amazing one."

Other entries include slow ballads and faster paced tunes in Hebrew, English and  smattering of Yiddish. Hasidic songs and Mizrachi style melodies were submitted. The organizers of "A Jewish Star" interviewed each judge about their thoughts on the competition and the state of Jewish music. 

Yossi Green, the long-time composer and songwriter stated, "Girls and woman defiantly have the same issues [as men]. They have the same media that is bombarding them. There are female vocalists that are sprouting out all over the place, and [we are] doing recordings for women only." 

His daughter Riki Green was interviewed as well. She stated, "I think for someone to be a Jewish star, he really has to mean what he's singing. I think the purpose can't be just to be famous, because people that do that, in my opinion, don't really make it." 

The interviews with the judges are coupled with other videos as well. "This year we took it to the next level," said Soffer. "We had reality TV episodes following the contestants and judges."  All finalists and many semifinalists had their videos posted by "A Jewish Star" on the contests website and YouTube channel. 

However not every video submission was accepted. "We rejected some that were not Jewish enough for the Jewish Star because we are trying to make this a unique competition that is kosher. There are other competitions like Kohav Nolad (the Israeli TV show A Star is Born) and American Idol. We are trying to be a kosher platform." 

So what exactly is Jewish music? "That's the million dollar question," Soffer replied. "Everyone has a different answer. Music in general, is a very powerful thing. If the artists is putting all his heart into the song, then you feel it, and if it's coming from Kedusha (holiness), then you will connect to Kedusha." 

A Jewish Star finals will take place at Brooklyn College on Monday March 19th at 7:30PM. For more information visit http://www.ajewishstar.com/.

Ben Bresky is the head of the music department for Arutz Sheva's English language news servce and the host of the Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast. For downloadable archives click here.