Angie Robles spent most of Tuesday night furiously texting the number “4” to X-Factor Israel as she watched the season finale at a karaoke bar in Tel Aviv. Robles was voting for her best friend, Rose Fostanes, a 47-year-old Filipina caregiver who shot to fame in Israel as a deep-voiced diva. When Rose won, Angie jumped on her chair and danced in front of the bar’s television.
“Toda Raba Israel,” she said. “We are so proud.”
Rose Fostanes came to Israel six years ago from Manila to work as a housekeeper and caregiver. She is one of 40,000 Filipinos in Israel, and can be seen pushing the elderly in wheelchairs on Tel Aviv’s leafy boulevards. But Rose also nursed a love of singing, and she joined a band at the Mommy’s Place karaoke bar on her days off.
A friend convinced her to audition for X-Factor. Rose arrived in jeans and a T-shirt and belted out “This is My Life.” Her deep, throaty voice blew away the judges, while her devotion to her family at home melted their hearts. Rose’s employer, an ailing woman in her 50s, gave her the month off to compete on the show.
“This not only for me, I’m doing for my family and for all the Filipinos, those working abroad,” Rose said.
Rose earned a cult following. Dani Rahom runs the Dragon Asian grocery in south Tel Aviv, and he said Filipinos have been buying house decorations, ice cream, and fruit cocktails for the past two weeks.
“They tell me they do it for Rose, that she will succeed,” he said.
X-Factor is a singing talent show that ran for four weeks. By the final episode Tuesday night, three other contestants remained: a religious young songwriter named Uri Kashiv, a blonde Israeli 19-year-old named Eden Ben Zaken and a rock band called Fusion.
Cheryl Sevegan, a reporter with a local Filipino newspaper, urged her Facebook friends to text in their support for Rose. She said Filipinos across the world were begging to see videos of the show’s episodes.
“All Filipinos love karaoke, even when they’re just in the house,” Sevegan said. “I went home last July and I was shocked. My nephew is 7 years old, and he already uses microphones and follows lyrics.”
Domonic Lusana came to Mommy’s Place after trying unsuccessfully to get into the live taping of the final. As he watched the TV, he cheered whenever another contestant was voted off the show. He said his employer was a fan of the show and gave him her phone for the night so he could send extra votes in by text message.
Part of the final included a one-on-one interview at home with supermodel Bar Refaeli, who hosted the show. Rose walked into Refaeli’s apartment and told her, “two of your elevators would be my whole apartment.” She told Refaeli about missing her sister and her girlfriend, who she hadn’t seen in 30 years. The show surprised Fostanes by bringing the two women to Israel for the finale. Sevegan cried as she watched the interview.
“I know that story, that she worked hard for 20 years, away from family and loved ones,” Sevegan said.
Rose’s main song for the final competition was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” It was a choice that reflected how far away she was from the Philippines; karaoke bars in Rose’s homeland have banned the song because singers, puffed up on the song’s bravado, have been known to get into fatal fights.
As the show boiled down to its last two contestants, Rose and Eden, Lennie Riliera held her hands in front of her face with pressure, even though she didn’t understand most of the program, which was in Hebrew.
Finally Refaeli announced Rose was the winner. Mommy’s Place erupted into cheers.
“We are Filipino and we feel that we have a talent,” Riliera said, adding that now she’ll feel different walking around Tel Aviv. “Now everybody knows that Filipinos are the X-Factor.”
Daniella Cheslow is an American journalist covering the Middle East.