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French Version

With 'Star Academy' light years behind her, singer Olivia Ruiz wows Music Hall

Mixing early Nick Cave with 1920s French cabaret and a pinch of rock, the 26-year-old French chanteuse Olivia Ruiz captivated the crowd at Music Hall in Downtown Beirut this past weekend. In a red polka-dot dress, with long brown hair and fox-colored eyes, Ruiz exuded confidence and humor as she performed in front of a tight live band.

Ruiz's gig at Music Hall is part of the Cabaret du Monde, an ongoing series of concerts bringing a range of French musicians for engagements in Beirut (the series, which began in June 2005, is a joint effort between the French Cultural Center and Music Hall's Michel Elefteriades).

Ruiz is billed as an up-and-coming star, a young singer straddling the line between alternative and popular music, claiming the same artistic lineage as the likes of Edith Piaff. In more pedestrian terms, she is also a graduate (or rather a drop-out) of the French version of "Star Academy." This fact may be perceived as an artistic handicap, but on Sunday Ruiz proved it to be nothing of the sort.

"I would never have joined 'Star Academy' if I had known what it was," said Ruiz backstage, exhausted after her show, curious about seeing Beirut and still showing thunder in her eyes. "But you know, it was the first season in France and my mother pushed me to the tryouts, so I did it."

Ruiz started out well before then, anyway. "I've always been into the music scene," she explained. "My father is a composer. We used to sing together in small towns to make some cash. It was better than cleaning someone else's bathroom. We were in need but still, we did what we liked best."

Post-"Star Academy," Ruiz caught the attention of French singer Juliette, who introduced her to Polydor.

"I needed all the credibility I could get," she said. "So I got lyrics from everyone I could. I came back with about 50 songs, and since then, they trust me.

"I set my goals high. I do not want to be mediocre," she said, defiant. "This is a very hard world to break into, so if you don't put all your mind and heart into it, you end up a wannabe."

Beirut,03 13 2006
Hala Moawad
The Daily Star
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