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(photo credit: Keshet)
OK, I admit it: I'm a closet Kochav Nolad addict. I didn't intend to be: It all started four summers ago, when I thought it would be cute to see what Israeli television would do with the much-talked about American Idol reality format that was all the rage in the US. Sitting with my Israeli in-laws, torpid after consuming too much of the week's Friday night feast, I flicked on the TV to see what Channel 2 was up to.
We were in the middle of watching auditions for the show's first season when we saw a shy, diminutive girl in an IDF uniform step up to the mike. When she opened her mouth and poured out the first purely musical number of the evening, I distinctly remember saying, "This Ninette Taib is going to make it all the way." (Of course no one else remembers that, but I swear on Yehuda Levy it's true.)
Since I don't generally follow sports, I've never really understood the whole "root, root, root for the home team" philosophy. A Star is Born changed all that for me, and I felt a real flush of victory as Taib belted out her victory tune. (The singer's somewhat oddly un-celebratory selection was "Yam shel Dma'ot," or "A Sea of Tears.")
Sailing into Season Two, I was fully confident that my man, the honey-voiced Harel Ska'at, would take the title. "No doubt," I thought smugly as we waited sleepily for the results to come in. "He's obviously the better performer." (I still hold that the "other" Harel - Harel Moyal - won merely because his IDF service during the second intifada meant people felt compelled to support him. I am not ruling out conspiracy theories, either.)
I was disappointed by the show's third season. Aside from the quirky Yehuda Sa'ado and his Mizrahi-tinged renderings of mainstream Israeli tunes, the only thing worth watching was the judges. Zvika "the Maestro" Pick, Tsadi Tsarfati and Riki Gal were the real stars, once again egged on by host Zvika Hadar.
After three years together, Pick, Tsarfati and Gal were like a portable one-liner judging unit, lifting themselves above that season's mediocrity with their wit and directness. Gal in particular, with her flights of rhetorical fancy when impressed and concise criticism when left cold, stole the show.
Which is why I was a little concerned entering this fourth season: Gal had left, only to be replaced by two usurpers - Margalit Tsana'ani (aka Margol) and Gal Uchovsky.
In what must have been a conscious move away from the judges' niceties in previous seasons, the dynamic change in line-up made for a spicier, franker show. While the judges are still in no way as nasty as Idol's Simon Cowell, Uchovsky in particular pulls no punches when a performance falls flat.
But there haven't been too many opportunities for Uchovsky to criticize. The current season has just been remarkably good.