From student to soldier, stopping at pop star in between

19-year-old singer Idan Yaniv dominated radio playlists all summer and is now getting ready for a new project: enlistment in the IDF.

idan yaniv 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
idan yaniv 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Idan Yaniv may not have shot to fame on TV's star-making Kochav Nolad singing contest, but at age 19 he's unquestionably broken through. His debut pop and soft rock album Hoshev Aleha (Thinking of Her) hit record stores just over two months ago. The album's first single became a soccer anthem, and the the title track has received generous radio air time on Galgalatz and 88 FM since its midsummer release - another sure sign of the young singer's across-the-board appeal. "Yes, the CD is doing very well. You could say I've become something of a star," Yaniv says simply, in an interview indicating that none of his newfound popularity has gone to his head. And the wheel of success appears to be gaining momentum for the young singer. His new single, "Layla Lavan" (White Night), came out last week and immediately joined the hitmaking Galgalatz playlist, and the song is now wrapping up its run as Reshet Gimmel's song of the week. On Tuesday, the singer was honored by telecommunications company Cellcom with a "Golden Ringtone" award for Hoshev Aleha's title track - an honor given to songs downloaded as cell phone ringtones by more than 40,000 Israelis. (A notable number indeed: an album is certified platinum after selling 40,000 copies.) Yaniv says he's been surprised and thrilled by his rapid professional rise. "It's wonderful that things are going so well," he says. "Just last week I sang at wedding, and someone came up to me and asked me to do 'Layla Lavan.' I was amazed. The song had only been out four days." Despite his youth and understated reaction to his success, Yaniv is already something of a music industry veteran. He started singing in competitions and festivals and at private events when he was only 11. A key development came three years later, when the young performer won first prize with his version of "Haperakh Beganni" (The Flower in My Garden) on a televised talent competition based on songs from the repertoire of the late Yemenite-born singer Zohar Argov. He's toured extensively within Israel, performing at venues across the country in the intervening years. His success, in short, is the product of years of hard work, even if he's still barely out of high school. He certainly sees it that way. "I wrote 'Hoshev Aleha' when I was 17, so it took two whole years before it was released. I have performed all over the country - sometimes I feel like I'm on an extended school trip," he says with a laugh. The new single is included on a re-release of Hoshev Aleha that comes just two months after the album's initial launch. The re-release includes four remixes of the album's hit title track, a break-up song with a soulful Mizrahi influence. (A club-ready remix of the song was also released earlier this summer.) It may look like a quick marketing move, but there's actually another, romance-related reason for the re-release, Yaniv says. "Actually, 'Layla Lavan' was supposed to be on the album the first time around, but I'd just come out of a long relationship. The song talks about how logic and feelings sometimes clash, and that was exactly my predicament at the time," he said. "It was a bit too painful to bring out the song just then. But, as they say, time heals all wounds." Time appears to be on Yaniv's side, although his youth also means there's the small matter of his fast-approaching army service to deal with. For the past couple of years, Yaniv has been a military cadet, studying computer engineering between gigs and recording dates. In a couple of months, however, he'll swap his fashionable jeans and T-shirts for a decidedly untrendy IDF uniform. Still, he's hopeful his national service won't get too much in the way of his music, even though he knows he won't be joining an entertainment troupe like a number of other young pop stars and actors have in the past. "I hope the army is considerate about my career, though naturally I want to do my bit like everyone else," he says. His musical future continues to play a central role in his thinking, even as he prepares to enlist, and he's full of ideas for future projects."I'd like to start doing venues like Caesarea in maybe a year's time, although you need a wide repertoire for that," he says, adding that a second album is in the works. "I've already written a lot of material for it" - he's written all the lyrics and will play piano on a couple of numbers - "but with my army service, we'll have to work fast." With one personal heartbreak already behind him, Yaniv says he's well-equipped to provide the pathos of the ballads he performs. "I'm a romantic anyway," he says. "You've got to put your feelings into a song if you want it to mean something to the audience. I really do wear my heart on my sleeve when I'm on stage or in the recording studio. I try my best to get my feelings across." With the larger local venues already firmly in Yaniv's sights, he says he'd like to eventually record and perform songs in English and French, and aim for the far larger music market outside Israel. He cites a surprising collection of inspirations that may help him in that effort, naming the likes of Mike Brant, the Haifa-born singer who achieved star status in France in the Seventies, and the King, Elvis Presley. "Brant was amazing," he says. "He had such a powerful presence. And Elvis, too, was fantastic." Reminded that neither singer made it to senior citizen status - Brant committed suicide in his 30s and Elvis died at 43 - Yaniv pauses. "Well, I'd like to live a bit longer than they did," he adds quickly.