Tamar Friedman never thought she’d even pass the first audition for the Israeli version of the X-Factor, let alone get into the top tier. It wasn’t like she’d sought it out. The producers of the singing competition reality show, which is modeled after other Israeli imports like A Star is Born and The Voice, contacted Friedman after a cousin secretly referred her.
“They said, come in. I figured why not. But I was sure there was no chance I’d make it,” the 17-year-old Friedman says, sitting on the couch in her parents’ fashionable Jerusalem home, speaking fluent English – not surprising given that her family emigrated from the US to Israel some 25 years ago.
But she did pass, and eventually performed 11 times on the show before being voted off. (Foreign caregiver Rose Fostanes from the Philippines took home the top prize.) Friedman’s success was all the more surprising given that she has no formal musical training and, in fact, has a fair dose of stage fright.
“I was really scared. Everyone is looking at you up there,” she admits. “Even in school, when I’m sitting in class and I have something to say, I get nervous.”
Indeed, that was one of the criticisms that Friedman heard as she sung her way into the hearts of millions of Israeli households: her soaring, sultry voice, chestnut- colored hair and classic girl-next-door looks (with a delicately placed nose ring to add a contemporary twist) wowed the audience and viewers at home, but at least two of the show’s celebrity judges – Shiri Maimon and Ivri Lieder – complained that she didn’t do enough to “own” the stage.
“It’s true. I don’t like to dance,” Friedman says. “I like to sit with my guitar or alone, or stand just with the microphone. But I’m happy I did the show. People got to see a different side of reality TV, not just the mainstream.”
Friedman’s simple style didn’t stop the producers from dressing her up anyway: as the show progressed, Friedman’s wavy locks where straightened and her casual shorts were replaced by more elegant dresses.
“I was like a Barbie,” she jokes. “They were always telling me what to wear and I wasn’t used to it. But it was part of the fun.
Ten minutes after the show was over, I was back into these old shoes,” she adds, holding up a pair of her favorite worn-in boots.
The other girls on the show were more into the whole makeover scene. “They liked all the make-up and all the dresses,” Friedman says. “I never developed a taste for it.”
Nevertheless, the show has changed one thing: Friedman is itching to get out and perform again, wherever and whenever possible. It could be at a wedding, a bar mitzvah or a benefit concert, she suggests.
And now she doesn’t feel so nervous. “You can put me on a stage and I won’t shake anymore!” That newfound confidence clearly stems from her intense X-Factor experience over a nearly six-month period, including being mentored by ex-Israeli punk rocker Rami Fortis (“he’s crazy but also very fatherly”), and performing the Adele hit “Skyfall” in an extravagant staging with a full orchestra.
Her favorite moment: an intimate duet with her real father, Jeff, on baby grand piano.
Despite her achievements – which now include being stopped on the street for autographs (“it feels weird,” she says) – Friedman doesn’t plan to try out for the army band when she joins the IDF. “I want to do something significant,” she says.
Her dream: “To be a counselor leading hiking trips around Israel, working with youth from difficult homes. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was small.”
Friedman has plenty of experience working with kids already – she’s been a counselor for the Israeli Scouts organization for the last three years, although she had to take a break to participate in X-Factor.
Her campers didn’t mind – they, along with her high school classmates, provided much of the support that propelled her so far. “They made signs and posted them everywhere, saying vote for me.” In some portions of the X-Factor competition, the public is invited to vote in real time by sending in text messages on their mobile devices.
Has fame gone to Friedman’s head? Hardly.
The ever-modest Friedman doesn’t even use Facebook: there’s a fan page with 6,000 likes on the social media website but Friedman has to log in as her sister to post to it and respond. She’s well aware of how hurtful being always online can be. “Even if I read 40 amazing comments, if there’s one bad one, it breaks me,” she says.
What does Friedman think of Rose Fostanes, who won the inaugural Israeli X-Factor? “We became very close. From the beginning I said, I don’t want to win first place. I want to win second place and you, Rose, will win first.” How about the X-Factor’s host, international supermodel Bar Rafaeli? “She’s even prettier in real life.”
For now, it’s back to reality rather than reality TV for Friedman. A senior in Jerusalem’s pluralistic Reut high school, Friedman still has her final matriculation exams coming up. And in the fall, she plans to enroll in a mechina (a pre-army seminary).
But, she adds insistently, if anyone is looking for a performer this summer, you know where to find her: she – or her sister – will be logging into Facebook to field any and all requests.