There was a case of “Idol” worship in Gladwyne last week, and it was all in the name of helping Israel.
Hagit Yaso, the 23-year-old winner of the 2011 Kochav Nolad (“A Star Is Born” in Hebrew), Israel’s version of American Idol, performed in concert as part of the Jewish National Fund Eastern Pennsylvania’s “Tribute to Southern Israel,” held at the home of Michael and Kristin Karp on Jan. 11.
Sederot’s favorite daughter, Yaso is the first Kochav Nolad winner of Ethiopian descent — her parents emigrated from Ethiopia in the 1980s — and she fully embraced her heritage during the competition, singing in Amharic as well as in Hebrew and English.
In an interview before the concert, she said she knew she would make music her profession from the time she began performing as a young teen in front of crowds at community centers and in bands such as Sederot Youth and her military band. But she acknowledged that she came close to missing out on her coronation. “My family really had to push me to enter the competition,” she said.
Despite her change in fortune, Yaso still lives in her childhood home with her parents and four siblings.
“It was just too hard for me to move,” she explained with the help of a translator. “I needed my family around me more than anything.” As a result, she commutes to the studio in Tel Aviv where she is recording her as-yet untitled debut album.
The first single from that album, “Everything Reminds Me,” reflects Yaso’s eclectic tastes and influences, with hints of R&B, Middle Eastern and reggae music. “I grew up on Bob Marley,” she said. “He’s part of the soundtrack of my life.”
Thanks to her background, it is a life that can feel a bit divided at times. “When I am in Israel, the Ethiopian community feels that I represent them. I’m a symbol for them. But when I come to the United States, I feel like I am a representative of Israel.”
When in Sederot, this former kindergarten assistant sticks to a strict schedule of normalcy, doing her own shopping and making regular visits to her old place of employment, “so that I can watch my kids growing.” In fact, she said, the easiest part of her post-Kochav Nolad life has been her ability “to stay myself and be true to myself.”
But she is fully aware that her title only carries so much weight. “Now that I am known, I have to work so much harder. I need to prove myself. Winning was just the beginning.”
Hear Yaso singing by clicking the video in the multimedia tab or visiting her YouTube page .