Nellie Roliere couldn't understand the Hebrew on Israeli X-Factor, but she watched the show’s finale with bated breath.
She was rooting for fellow Filipina Rose Fostanes, a 47-year-old caregiver whose Cinderella story has inspired thousands of foreign workers in Israel. Fostanes came to Israel six years ago. She would be taking a job as a caregiver, even though she had another aspiration.
“Since I was a child, I was dreaming to be a singer,” Fostanes said. But she thought she didn’t have what it takes. “I don’t have the whole package to be a star and a singer, because I am short and fat. I’m not beautiful.”
On her days off, Fostanes would sing in a band at Mommy’s Place, a karaoke bar in south Tel Aviv. Friends urged her to try out for X-Factor. Fostanes arrived at the audition dressed in a wide t-shirt and baggy jeans. She howled out Shirley Bassey’s “This is My Life.” The judges gushed over her talent and cried over her life story. Fostanes sends all her meager earnings home to her family.
Fostanes said her employer, an ailing woman in her 50s, gave her a month off to focus on the competition. By Tuesday, Fostanes was one of just four singers to reach the finals of Israeli X-Factor. The others were a young, religious songwriter, a blonde 19-year-old singer, and a rock band. Filipino fans anxiously watched her compete for the title from the very bar where she started singing.
Best friend Angie Robles barely looked up from her cell phone for the entire show, busily was texting in votes for Fostanes.
“I am sending 50 times, as much as I can,” Robles said. “Israelis see us only as caregivers or cleaning houses, that’s it. And now, with Rose, I hope they will change.”
The show’s host, supermodel Bar Refaeli, interviewed each contestant in her apartment, including Fostanes. She asked about her family back home.
“I want them to witness what’s happening to me here,” Fostanes said. “I miss them like crazy.”
The show surprised Fostanes by flying her sister and girlfriend to Israel for the finals. Cheryl Sevegan, another Filipino at the karaoke bar in Tel Aviv, dried her eyes as she watched.
“I know that story — that she worked hard for 20 years. She’s supporting her family, and she is away from her family and loved ones,” Sevegan said.
The program’s finale centered on solos, and Fostanes chose Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Dressed in a floor-length, glittery black gown, she was every bit the diva.
Sevegan said she thought Rose nailed it — and she wasn’t surprised by her natural talent.
“All Filipinos love karaoke, even in the house,” Sevegan said. “My nephew is only, I think, 7 years old and he knows how to sing very good. We were born like that.”
As the show last night reached its climax, the Filipino crowd at Mommy's Place could hardly contain its excitement. Nellie Roliere buried her face in her hands while she listened to the final announcement.
Fostanes won, and the bar burst into cheers. Roliere said she’d be walking with her back a little straighter.
“We have a talent,” she said. “Even if we are Filipino. We are so proud.”
Like all X-Factor winners around the globe, Fostanes gets the chance to professionally record an album. She has at least 40,000 fans here in Israel who are likely to buy it when it comes out.