Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jonathan H. Shannon

Committee Members

Jane C. Sugarman

Eliot Bates

Katherine Meizel

Subject Categories



pan-Arab entertainment industries, Arab music, media studies, television, Arab world, politics


One of the most popular entertainment programs on Arabic television in the 2010s through to its most recent season in 2017, Arab Idol (Mahbub al-‘Arab) was an offshoot of the Idols television franchise that launched globally in the early 2000s. This dissertation is a study of how Arabness was voiced quite literally on Arab Idol, through rhetoric and production—but primarily through the music. A show in which an Arabness is implicit in the nomenclature, Arab Idol catered to an Arab audience and thereby featured music that might speak to this audience. What distinguished the offshoot from its global counterparts at its launch was a unity around a socio-linguistic and regional Arab—rather than a national—identity, while celebrating the immense diversity across this region of North Africa and the Arabic-speaking Middle East. Judges and the program’s emcee made ample references to kull al-‘alam al-‘arabi (the entire Arab world) or al-watan al-‘arabi (the Arab homeland). The songs on Arab Idol included popular numbers from the twentieth century to the present, all performed in various dialects of Arabic. The music usually featured modal maqam-based melodies, traditional rhythms, and vocal and instrumental improvisations. Contestants performed songs associated with famous singers from across the region, invoking both a general Arab pride and one for their respective countries, if they hailed from the same country as the star who popularized the song. While Arab Idol has been examined academically through the lens of media studies, and to a lesser extent through that of linguistic anthropology, my interest is in arguably the most important aspect of the show: the singing voice. I argue that the framing of contestants, musical performances, and episodes of Arab Idol were imbued with markers of Arabness. For Arab Idol, these markers included the Arabic language, the issue of Palestine, and, most importantly, musical features, singers, and repertoire. I explore Arab Idol’s links to earlier regional mediated musical programs and televised vocal competitions that have contributed to the successful establishment of an Arab popular music consciousness. I also suggest that Arab Idol reflected, redefined, and expanded a canonical Arab voice formed over the decades by the various media industries in the region.