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Syrian wins song contest based on 'American Idol,' declines to wear flag

By Slma Shelbayah, CNN
updated 6:41 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Syrian winner says he does not want his art used for politics
  • "Arab Idol" is a hit throughout the Arab world
  • It puts a smile on the faces of people living in conflict regions

(CNN) -- In a region scarred by conflict and instability, a broadcast unites Arabs from many nations in front of their television sets. "Arab Idol," an adaptation of "American Idol," is going strong in the Middle East.

In the latest finale, the winner -- Hazem Shareef of Syria -- broke with the trend and refused to carry his country's flag in his victory celebration.

The reason?

After his golden pipes captivated viewers for months, he didn't want to appear to be taking a side in the civil war. "I am 21 years old, and I don't want my art to be connected to politics," he said.

Regardless of their country's strife, winners have celebrated their moments in the spotlight showing their national flags. Last year, Palestinian Mohammad Assaf of Gaza wore his on a scarf to represent his people.

Karmen Suleiman of Egypt appeared with that country's flag a year after the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

Though Shareef ditched the national colors, he did dedicate his "victory song" to Syria.

The show's judges didn't hesitate to place their fingers in Syria's wounds.

"With your winning, you made bleeding Syria cheer," said United Arab Emirates singer Ahlam, a judge on the show.

"God willing your winning will be a remedy to the injuries of Syrians," said Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram, another judge.

Shareef pockets 250,000 Saudi riyals ($66,000) in cash and a contract with Platinum Records for three singles and a video clip. A trip to the Seychelles courtesy of Emirates airline rounds off the prize.

'Arab Idol' winner tries to make it in America

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