From ‘A Star Is Born’ in Israel to NYC’s Highline

By Nathan Burstein

Published August 26, 2009.
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Paula Valstein isn’t the first musician attempting a crossover from reality TV to the U.S. pop charts — but she is the first with a major fan base in Israel.

Paula Valstein
DAVID S. RUBIN
Paula Valstein

Less than a month after getting eliminated from “Kochav Nolad,” Israel’s version of “American Idol,” Valstein will perform August 28 at New York City’s Highline Ballroom, host in the past to top-selling acts ranging from Paul McCartney to Joan Baez to Rihanna. Valstein’s piano-driven show will be the latest boost in a summer of gathering momentum for the singer, a Brooklyn resident since arriving from Tel Aviv four-and-a-half years ago.

A native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Valstein began her music career at age 4, playing piano with her mom’s encouragement before moving with her family to Israel at age 8. An army veteran and graduate of the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music outside Tel Aviv, Valstein returned to Israel in May to perform on “Kochav Nolad.” She had auditioned for the series during a visit to New York by the show’s panel of judges. A runaway ratings success since its 2003 debut on Israeli television, “Kochav Nolad” (“A Star Is Born”) has been responsible, like its American counterpart, for launching several successful careers, even for runners-up and other also-rans on the show.

Valstein, who initially turned down an invitation to appear on the series —“I’m a songwriter, and I don’t do covers” — said she was pleased with her change of heart, calling the series “an incredible experience” that “opened every door I could want in Israel.”

Previously focused on recording in English — she hopes to release a single for American audiences in October — Valstein plans to spend the fall working on a Hebrew album as well. Thanks to her Top 10 finish on “Kochav Nolad,” she said “walking in Tel Aviv is basically impossible” because of fan recognition.

Back in the United States, Valstein should get some help maintaining perspective from her day job — and specifically from young students at the United Synagogue of Hoboken, N.J. — where she teaches Judaism, music and Hebrew.


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