Cairo West Magazine Catches Up With Raya Abirached
By Francesca Sullivan
Last month at Porto Cairo Mall, The Entertainment Hub brought a unique show to Cairo: Got Talent, featuring star turns from some of the best acts from the international TV competitions, including the US, Italy, France, the UK and of course Arabs Got Talent.
The Entertainment Hub, created in 2012 in collaboration with partners the MBC Group is a ticketed event agency belonging to entrepreneur Mahmoud Saad. Their first full-scale event was last year’s successful Scooby Doo, but the Got Talent show, which as well as showing in Cairo is also being produced in Dubai and Saudi Arabia with a different group of entertainers, has been the biggest project so far.
“We took the license to produce the stage show from MBC4,” says a spokesperson for the company. “A lot of people after seeing the show on TV assume it is a competition, but it’s not. It’s an opportunity for an audience to watch the acts performing live on stage, most of them having got to the final stages in the TV show – first or second place, or ‘golden buzzer’ performers.”
The Got Talent show was presented live by the charismatic Raya Abirached, a familiar face on Arabic television with her show Scoop with Raya, and of course Arabs Got Talent.
Cairo West Magazine was delighted to catch this exclusive interview with Raya, in which she divulges some of her top tips for being a leading entertainment journalist.
CWM: Did you ever dream as a child that you would one day become as famous as the celebrities you now interview?
RA: People tell me that they’ve grown up watching the show, which is very nice because it means I’ve inspired a generation of young people to love cinema.
I never got into television because I wanted to be someone famous. It was my passion for cinema that took me down that road; I was in television because it was the right platform from which to share that passion with other people. Fame has been the result but it was never my target – even though I enjoy having people recognize me, and I enjoy feeling the love – especially here in Egypt.
Has the role of interviewer and presenter been something you slipped into naturally?
Yes, because it was my passion. I brought it to the channel; it was a woman-made show. It’s not like I was given the opportunity to present a show on cinema – I proposed it and created the show myself; it’s my baby! It’s been an organic process.
Who has been the strongest influence in your life?
I’m not someone who gets very influenced by other people. I’ve enjoyed different experiences here and there, met people along the way who have had an impact on my career, some tougher on me than others, inspired me to work hard and be proactive – because in this job that’s what we do: work hard. But basically, I’m influenced more by things that happen around me than by people.
It must be demanding keeping up with your hectic schedule, how do you manage to balance work and motherhood? You are always on the road, how do you stay sane?
That’s a newly acquired skill that I’m still learning! It’s very difficult to be away from my daughter. My job requires a lot of travelling and I started travelling again two months after having her, (she’s nearly five years old now). Managing it all requires good organizational skills, which I was blessed with initially and now it’s become full-blown. Basically what I have given up is any kind of social life; it’s my job and my family and those are the exclusive priorities I’m happy to have.
What have been the standout moments in your career to date?
It’s always the first time that stands out, the first time to do Arabs Got Talent. The first time at the Oscars or the Cannes Film Festival, the first interview with Brad Pitt, or Oprah Winfrey. But what’s made a difference in the last few years is social media and how I interact with the fans; knowing what they want, who’s important to them, what their questions are and the impact of the show on them – which is really nice.
Who are some of the big names in show business that you have interviewed? Out of all celebrities you have interviewed who was the most fun?
Even though a lot of them are quite serious, if you get them on a good day the comedians are always quite fun. I did many interviews with Robin Williams and he really made me laugh, a true comedic spirit.
How do you manage to ‘warm up’ a difficult interviewee?
It’s very important to have done the research about the person and, for example, to have seen all their films. I never have prepared questions though; I prefer to listen to what people say and not follow a particular line of questioning. I feel they often give you more interesting information that way. It’s important to create a nice atmosphere in the room, as though you’re just having a chat. One of my lucky skills is having a very good memory, so if there is something important I want to ask it will always stay in my mind even if I get distracted.
Do you come to Egypt often?
I used to come more often but this is only my second time since the 2011 revolution. I love Egypt; it has so much spirit and people are happy and positive despite the disparities, the poverty. They are warm people. The Egyptian competitors in Arabs Got Talent always have an amazing ability to brush themselves off and move on even when they don’t succeed. They don’t have the kind of narcissism I’m used to with the Lebanese, who often think they’re the best at everything!
Have you seen any potential stars amongst the performers here at Got Talent?
Oh yes, absolutely – in fact many of them already are worldclass performers and feature in the Guinness Book of World Records. Sos and Victoria for example, have performed all over the world and are just back from Vegas. Lisa Sampson was a sensation in the UK on Britain’s Got Talent. The competitions are a platform for them and afterwards, if they work hard enough, they all become professionals. Salah the Entertainer, Babu Flex – I’d pay for a ticket to see them!
What advice would you offer young singers or actors wanting to make it to the top?
I think it’s great to identify your talents and follow them, but never assume that just because you are talented it will be a quick route to success. In life you have to earn it, develop your talent, go through the good and the bad and never give up if you feel that this is truly what you’re meant to do.
How important are events like this in providing opportunities for young talents to get exposure?
They’re providing a professional platform to these performers and a real public who’ve paid a ticket to come and see them, which is what they’re all about. We live in a region where it’s established that to succeed in life you have to go into ‘serious professions’, which is something that the show, and myself, are trying to change peoples’ minds about. Take the Egyptian singer on the show Yasmina El Alwani, for example. Got Talent has completely changed her life and there’s no doubt she will become a singing star.
Favorite clothing item? Large black trousers!
Signature fragrance? I don’t really have a best one; I change all the time. Right now I’m wearing Burberry.
Best habit? Discipline. (Or what my husband would call being a control freak.)
Comfort food? Ice cream.
Ideal holiday location? Miami.
Always in your suitcase? Trainers. I’ve taken a new habit of always exercising in hotels when I travel.
Favourite app? WhatsApp
What is the best gift you have ever received? My daughter.