Gender Bender: Israel’s Next ‘Idol’ Judge

By Nathan Burstein

Published April 08, 2009, issue of April 17, 2009.

‘American Idol” and its Israeli counterpart have both added a female judge for their 2009 seasons, but there’s one major difference: The Israeli judge used to be a man.


Transsexual pop star Dana International has joined the panel of experts for the seventh season of “Kochav Nolad” (“A Star Is Born”), the Israeli version of the smash TV singing contest. Born Yaron Cohen, the singer will become the show’s second female judge, joining music veteran Margalit Tzanani on the male-dominated panel. The move echoes the addition of songwriter Kara DioGuardi to the judges’ table on “American Idol,” currently in its eighth season. Both that show and “Kochav Nolad” proved runaway hits in their first seasons, but have gradually cooled off.

Though never a favorite among the religious, Dana International has maintained a wide following since leading Israel to victory at the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest, a pop competition that also helped launch the careers of ABBA and Celine Dion. More recently, the singer scored a string of hit singles from her 2007 pop album “Hakol Zeh Letova” (“Everything Is for the Best”). She continues to perform occasionally for fans in Europe.

Kochav Nolad” producers have come up with several additional changes for the show’s next season. After Passover, the judges will travel to New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas to audition Israeli expatriates, as well as American wannabes ready to sing in Hebrew.

The show’s producers are hoping to incorporate a bit of extra star power during the judges’ tour of the United States, inviting several American celebrities to serve as guest panelists. Their wish list includes Adam Sandler, Dolly Parton, Barry Manilow and Sheryl Crow, according to the “Kochav Nolad” Web site.

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