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Lebanese teen from Beirut joins global pop band

DUBAI – A teenage singer from Lebanon this week became the latest to join a global pop band formed by Simon Fuller, the man behind the Spice Girls and “American Idol,” which aims to transform young unknowns into internet superstars.

That may seem a grandiose ambition during a global pandemic. But Now United, with over a dozen teenagers drawn from across the world, is plowing ahead, recording and filming new music in the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai this week.

Nour Ardakani, 18, told The Associated Press during her visit Wednesday to the United Arab Emirates that she’s “honored" to represent Lebanon.

“Arts and music are so important in times like these,” she said. “Lebanon is going through so much.”

Beirut, Ardakani’s hometown, has been grappling with an array of crises: an economic collapse, a worsening coronavirus outbreak and a massive explosion that demolished businesses and homes across the capital last month.

Ardakani scored the 16th spot in the band after a series of Zoom auditions from quarantine that drew talented contenders from the Middle East. The band, similar to Fuller’s previous projects in show business, represents a career kick-starting platform for those dreaming of being catapulted from obscurity to teen pop fame.

The group, which includes aspiring singer-dancers from across the world, including Russia, India, China, Mexico and Finland, has attracted over 100 million fans on social media and this year got a nomination from MTV Video Music Awards.

Ardakani said she lives a “very normal life” for a Beirut-born teenager, but for years has posted ukulele songs and simple R&B covers she recorded in her bedroom. When her warm, dreamy voice caught the attention of the Now United scouts, she was spirited through auditions and flown in to join to her international peers.

“I’m so excited to make memories with everyone and tour the world,” she said, while admitting that with the surging pandemic, "I guess we don’t know.”