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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2005, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Iraqis cheered by Pop Idol show
Bilal performing on Iraqi Pop Idol
Twelve-year-old Bilal turned a moving poem in a powerful song
Iraq's hottest new singing talent has begun competing for the country's inaugural Pop Idol crown.

About 2,000 hopefuls have auditioned for a show that viewers and contestants alike see as an escape from their troubled lives.

For security reasons, the final will be held in the Lebanese capital Beirut, and there is no studio audience.

Nevertheless the show's creators have found themselves with a hit on their hands.

"We've lived through many wars," said director Wadia Nader.

"We're trying to help ease the burden and troubles of our people."

But taking part is a nerve-wracking experience for Iraq's would-be stars.

They have often braved bullets and bombs just to reach the studio, only to have their egos badly bruised when they are bluntly told to go home and practice more often.

Young star

Yet no-one has doubted the commitment of the boy tipped to come out on top.

Twelve year-old Bilal, from the northern city of Mosul, dedicated his song to a broken homeland and to its crying streets.

I felt he was sending a message to the people, singing for the people of Iraq
Laith Ali
BBC Baghdad bureau
He was not the only person in the studio who broke down as he performed. Even the hardest judges were moved to tears.

Laith Ali, an Iraqi who works for the BBC's bureau in Baghdad, described the importance of Bilal's emotional performance.

"When this 12-year-old boy on Pop Idol came along, he sang a song which made us feel for our nation.

"He sang his song with incredible emotion. And the way he sang was as though he was a professional."

Moving performance

Bilal chose the verses of an Iraqi poem for his performance, and sang in standard Arabic, a more difficult tongue to master than the colloquial language of everyday life.

"The words he used were not ordinary words, and they were very effective in conveying strong emotions," said Laith Ali.

"They were so powerful. I was very moved by the performance.

"I felt he was sending a message to the people, singing for the people of Iraq. He wasn't singing for himself, he wanted to send a message out to the people."

Watch clips from Iraq's version of Pop Idol

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