MANILA, Philippines—Celebrations broke out in the Philippines Wednesday after a Filipina who has spent nearly half her life as a caregiver overseas won Israel’s first “X Factor” competition.
Rose Fostanes, one of millions of Filipinos working abroad, won the television talent show late Tuesday with a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” that delighted fans in both countries.
Local television, news websites, social media and even President Benigno Aquino lavished praise on the unmarried, openly gay 47-year-old, who has worked abroad for more than two decades — including six years in Israel — to support her family.
“We know the situation she was in and we are very proud that she has again given the Philippines pride in the showcase of her talent,” Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters Wednesday.
“The Filipino has an innate advantage when it comes to the arts,” Lacierda said. “It clearly shows that the excellence of the Filipino can be expressed anywhere, everywhere, when they are given the opportunity to show their talent.”
Fostanes has been likened by fans to Susan Boyle, the middle-aged Scottish singer whose humble looks and shy demeanor belied a scintillating voice that captivated millions on the television talent show “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2009.
Fostanes’ day job had been to care for an elderly employer in Tel Aviv. She is one of some 10 million Filipinos, about a tenth of the population, who have gone to work abroad to escape poverty and joblessness back home.
Israel’s media said her victory had put the spotlight on the country’s low-paid migrant workers, among them tens of thousands of Filipinos, who work as carers or in menial jobs.
And her victory comes as tens of thousands of African immigrants and asylum seekers pressed a major protest against the Israeli government’s tough immigration policies.
Prohibited from singing professionally
But ironically, her runaway success is unlikely to improve her earning prospects in the Jewish state, with officials saying she would not be allowed to put her talent to professional use.
“She can only work as a carer, according to the law,” a spokeswoman for Israel’s population and immigration authority told Agence Frane-Presse.
“Of course she can sing – anyone can do that – but not as a professional.”
Fostanes, the only foreign contestant, lives in a crowded apartment in an area inhabited mostly by foreign workers in Tel Aviv.
“Not all workers and cleaners from the Philippines are in a position like this: It’s like Cinderella, you know,” she told the show in an earlier interview uploaded on YouTube.
But she fretted whether the Israeli audience, who had made her an early favorite, would tire of her plain looks and vote her out in favor of younger, slimmer rivals.
“This is what I’m afraid of, because I don’t have the whole package,” she said.
But the fans were won over.
In a live performance watched on television by many of her impoverished countrymen before dawn Wednesday, Fostanes’ powerful, soulful singing voice won the judges’ nod.
Her ecstatic younger sister, Rose, told a local television in Manila: “This is my sister’s life dream turning into reality. Who would have thought it would happen abroad?”
Fostanes had blitzed through the earlier rounds with impressive renditions of songs by Tina Turner, Lady Gaga, Prince and Christina Aguilera among others.
Clips of her performances have been drawing tens of thousands of hits since they were uploaded on YouTube this month.
Fostanes’ girlfriend Mel Adel said last weekend she feared her partner’s disclosure at the show of their lesbian relationship would harm her chances of winning.
“But I was elated that she did not disown me,” Adel said.
Lani Cayetano, mayor of the Manila suburb of Taguig where the singer’s siblings live, said: “She is indeed an epitome of hope, her powerful voice touching hearts not only of Israelis, but of all of us.”