Israel: 20 finalists make The Next Star for Eurovision 2018 live shows

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After two months and a whopping 17 episodes, the auditions round of The Next Star for Eurovision 2018 is finally over. Now it’s time for the first cut, which will no doubt be painful for many of you who developed emotional bonds with this year’s hopefuls. While 70 lucky acts made it to the second round of the live auditions, only 20 survived to make it to the live shows. Let’s meet them now…

We started way back in October and watched more than 100 auditions during 17 episodes (you can review all of them in our recap posts). Those shows were loud and featured a massive audience. But Round 2 was a more intimate affair, where the contestants sang in front of the judges in a small studio, and without any input from a braying crowd.

The artists could not “hide” behind a backing track or backing vocals, as most of the contestants were singing with just a piano or a guitar in the background.

You can watch most the auditions (including the ones from eliminated artists) at this link.

MEET THE FINALISTS

Netta Barzilai
Netta, 24, performs in clubs and weddings in Tel Aviv.
She has a unique look, which reflects her unique musical style: She’s a one-woman show that you have to watch in order to understand.

In her first audition she had a special vocal looper on stage, but even with just a one-string guitar during her second audition, she still oozed charisma, style and uniqueness in her special version of Eurovision 1978 winning song, “A-Ba-Ni-Bi”.

Izhar Cohen, the original performer of the song, watched her cover and said she’d be fab for Eurovision — and the music scene more generally.

1st audition: “Rude Boy”
2nd audition: “A-Ba-Ni-Bi”

Jonathan Mergui
At only 17 years of age, Jonathan has already adopted a stage name: Mergui. He looks and sounds like a combination of Shawn Mendes and Kristian Kostov — two talents that are currently lighting up the charts.

He said he can also dance, though he didn’t share that particular talent in his auditions. He is also the son of a well-known Israeli singer named Meital Trabelsi.

Both the judges and the audience LOVED him, especially Static & Ben El Tavori, who took a selfie with him after his first audition and said they will take another selfie with him at the final of the show, as they think he will win it.

1st audition: “How Far I’ll Go”
2nd audition: “Mercy”

Rinat Bar
Hardcore Eurovision fans might recognise Rinat from the Israeli national selection Kdam Eurovision 2005, where she sang “Kmo Chalom” (Like a Dream) and finished in seventh place. But Kdam wasn’t Rinat’s first experience on stage, as she has been performing since the age of 12 and has released nine albums so far.

She has enjoyed a relatively successful career working as a singer and a composer — especially within her genre of pop-oriental music — but she has never become a full-fledged star in Israel.

She made everyone dance during her first audition and was as good while performing a ballad in her second audition. Rinat is a pro.

1st audition: “Haneshika” (The Kiss)
2nd audition: “Chalomot Shel Acherim” (Other People’s Dreams)

Chen Aharoni
Another star you may know is Chen, who took part in the Israeli national selection Kdam Eurovision 2011, where he reached a very respectable fourth place with his song “Or” (Light).

But Chen was known to Israelis much earlier: In 2007 he took part in Kokhav Nolad (A Star Is Born), where he also reached fourth place and almost made it to the grand final.

Chen has international experience as he participated in the UK X Factor during 2013 but didn’t manage to pass Boot Camp. He has released two albums in Israel and an international EP named “Crazy”.

It was not a big surprise to find out that he made it to the live shows after his great auditions: Chen is a veteran singer.

1st audition: “Wrecking Ball”
2nd audition: “Symphony”

Adva Omer
Adva, 24, is the daughter of a cleaning lady who works at the Palace of Culture in Tiberias — a venue that hosts high-profile concerts for an array of singers.

As a little girl Adva climbed on that stage while her mother was cleaning and sung with a mop in her hand, dreaming of the day she could perform there for real.

With her incredibly emotional singing and clear talent she convinced the audience and the judges that she deserves a spot in the live shows.

1st audition: “Ratziti Ledaber Itcha” (I Wanted To Speak With You)
2nd audition: “Hashir Shelach” (Your Song)

Jose Steinberg
Jose brings Latin flavour to Israel straight from Colombia.

Both the audience and the judges fell for his Latin charm, even when he sang “Despacito” — the most unoriginal song possible.

In his second audition, he sang his own original number “La Matrace”, which was much more refreshing, so we can forgive him for his earlier offences.

1st audition: “Despacito”
2nd audition: “La Matraca”

Riki Ben Ari
Age ain’t nothing but a number and Riki is the perfect example of that. Now in her 50s, she claims she was born a singer, but only sings in the office and while making her children lunch.

The judges and the audience were shocked by her powerful voice and self-confidence during her auditions, as she sounded like a professional singer who had been on stage for many years, though some found her singing style a bit old fashioned.

1st audition: “Natural Woman”
2nd audition: “Son of a Preacher Man”

Jaki Gaforov
Nineteen-year-old Jaki was born in Uzbekistan and came to Israel as a baby. He lives with his grandparents in Tel Aviv and definitely beats(boxes) to his own drum.

The judges praised his “Space-swag” — their term for his unique look and style that’s at once edgy, fashion-forward and totally unique to him. Singing strong and boxing with those beats, he’s definitely found a space in which to slay. What a talent!

1st audition: “Feeling Good”
2nd audition: “Leave Your Pain”

AXUM
Axum is a duo composed of Judah (Gilor Yehuda) and Tedross (Reuben Aragai).

Rising from poverty and extreme hardship on the streets of Netanya, Axum is an in-your-face, one-of-a-kind duo that has broadened Israel’s definition of hip-hop, reggae and dancehall with their unique Middle Eastern and Ethiopian sounds.

They brought some really cool vibes to their audition with their original song “Arnevet” (Bunny) and convinced most of the audience and the judges (except for Keren Peles) with their uplifting performance.

1st audition: “Arnevet” (Bunny)
2nd audition: wasn’t broadcasted

Howie Danao
Howie, 17, sings at bars and on the streets. His mother came to Israel from the Philippines and worked as a housekeeper. When she found out she was pregnant, the family that employed her invited her to move in and they have all lived as one big happy family ever since.

This guy is full of charisma and groove — he made everyone dance during his first audition and also showed his ballad singing skills during his second audition.

1st audition: “Don’t”
2nd audition: “Lay Me Down”

Shay and Gilad
Shay Sharabi, 33, and Gilad Tzarum, 31, aka “The Yamanz”. They don’t just sing together — they create beautiful harmonies which are a gift to hear.

They got everyone excited, both the audience and the judges, with their emotional singing and coordination.

1st audition: “Bli Lehitkaven” (Unintentionally)
2nd audition: “Kshe’At Halacht” (When You Left)

Ravit Batashvili
Ravit, 25, is currently working double time: she’s completing her debut album while also writing lyrics for other singers.

A veteran of televised talent shows, she took part in a similar talent show called Kokhav Nolad (A Star Is Born) back in 2010, but was eliminated after just a few episodes.

Her oriental touch rubbed the judges in all the right ways, with Harel Skaat saying he wants exactly this kind of singer to represent Israel at Eurovision. Beauty, poise, strong voice, authenticity — she’s got it all.

1st audition: “Iceland”
2nd audition: “Bdiduti Hanehederet” (My Great Loneliness)

Shir Baruch
Shir, 26, lost her mother when she was 17 and hasn’t sung much since that tragedy, until recently. She always sings emotional songs with touching Hebrew lyrics and put her emotions on fine display.

Although she was far from perfect during her auditions, the judges loved her special fragility and touching voice.

1st audition: “Hakol Over” (This Too Shall Pass)
2nd audition: “Sheket” (Quiet) & “Yesh Belibi Kinor” (There’s a Violin in My Heart)

Eden Meiri
He’s only 17 years old, but he has music experience as a DJ and has been creating electro music since he was 13.

With his impressive performances of oriental ballads he earned endless compliments from the judges.

1st audition: “Tachzeri” (Please Come Back)
2nd audition: “Im Yesh Gan Eden” (If There’s a Heaven)

Tal Mizrahi
Tal is a cool 22-year-old guy who sings in the streets for a living. He only eats fruits and vegetables — maybe that’s why he is so energetic on stage.

He totally rocked his audition and left the audience and the judges full of excitement and adrenaline.

1st audition: “American Idiot”
2nd audition: wasn’t broadcasted

Sarit Hativa
For Sarit, 23, the stage has been a dream since she was a little girl. As a teenager, she went to many events and asked the people in charge to let her go on stage and sing.

While getting a lot of NOs, she didn’t give up and eventually got some opportunities in clubs and bars, where she gained a lot of experience.

Sarit sings very well in her Oriental / Mizrachi style (which is the most popular style in Israel), yet in her first audition she didn’t manage to score the required 70% in order to pass her audition and was saved by the hosts. Thanks to them and her great second audition, she made it the live shows.

1st audition: “Ratziti Ledaber Itcha” (I Wanted to Talk to You)
2nd audition: “Bo Nisa LaYam” (Let’s Drive to the Beach)

Ofir Harush
She brims with confidence — and at only 16 years of age. Ofir likes to play her guitar and to sing every day.

Ofir was very excited and emotional during her audition, but it worked in her favor, as the judges and the audience couldn’t resist voting for her sweet voice.

1st audition: “Yesh Makom” (There is a Place)
2nd audition: wasn’t broadcasted

“The Choice”
This group overflows with talent. The drummer Gil Koli Plotnik — instantly recognisable from his amazing Rapunzel hair — used to play in a band with Eyal Golan, one of the biggest singers in Israel over the past few decades.

Lead singer Alon Sharr is also experienced — he appeared on stage next to IMRI at the most recent Eurovision.

The group impressed most of the judges in their first audition. However, they were a few points behind the required bar of 70% (in order to pass their audition) and were saved by the hosts at the last minute.

1st audition: “Yesh Zman” (There is Time)
2nd audition: wasn’t broadcasted

Shir Gadasi
Shir (which means a song in Hebrew) is 19-years old and his uncle is a famous Israeli singer called Avner Gadasi.

He might remind you a bit of Boaz Mauda, with his looks and his voice. It’s not a coincidence — they are both Yemenites.

Shir brings himself to the stage in a very pure and simple way and sometimes that’s all it takes. Both the judges and the audience enjoyed his unique voice, his modesty and simplicity and he sailed through to the next phase of the show.

1st audition: “Elaich” (To You)
2nd audition: wasn’t broadcasted

Gal Yakobi
This 18-year-old wonder reminds us (and everyone else) of Nadav Guedj. And from the moment he started to sing all the judges heard “The Golden Boy” in his voice.

The song that he (or the production team) chose at his audition happens to be the same song that Nadav sang on the show years earlier — click here and try to spot the differences.

Unlike Nadav, Gal is a tad shy and only recently started to sing. His great voice and his amazing similarity to Nadav got him to the next round.

1st audition: “When I Was Your Man”
2nd audition: wasn’t broadcasted

THE WRONG ELIMINATION

There are quite a few artists that failed to make the Top 20 despite their strong credentials and amazing talent. But the eliminee that really amazed us is Tslil Goldman.

Tslil (which means sound/tone in Hebrew) is a sweet 22-year-old from a huge family of messianic Jews.

She has never watched the Eurovision Song Contest since she doesn’t have a TV at home. But she’s definitely used to colour and eccentric personalities, as she works in circus fire shows for a living.

Her beautiful voice and sense of fragility reminded us of Blanche, just with a much more childlike voice.

Maybe next year?

Now, as 2018 is already here, it’s finally time to start the real competition. In the next episodes the acts will battle head-to-head and only the best will survive.

In case you missed any of the previous episodes, you can watch all of the qualifying performances and read quick reviews in our recap posts.

Which artist do you like the most? Who do you think would do well for Israel at Eurovision?

READ MORE ISRAEL EUROVISION NEWS

Photo credits: The Next Star for Eurovision