LOS ANGELES: The wait is over — Lebanese dance crew Mayyas have won season 17 of “America’s Got Talent” and they spoke to Arab News backstage to say they “can’t believe what’s happening.”
With the audience cheering, Mayyas jumped sky-high and took home the $1 million grand prize.
“We can’t believe what’s happening,” one member of the group said after celebrating the crew’s victory on stage. “We can’t believe what we’ve achieved, giving so much energy, leaving our work and education, dedicating our time to training every day to be here to represent our country and it is what we were looking for.”
“We were very stressed out by the fact that we had to (prepare the dance) in two-to-three days, but when we went up on stage and heard the cheers, the audience gave us a push and an adrenaline rush that wasn’t there and we did it,” another member said.
The crew’s choreographer, Nadim Cherfan, said: “This win gave me an opportunity to dream again. When you have a dream and you achieve it, you start to look for another dream. So I’m very happy that there is something to look forward to now, something to dream of, something to fight for.”
“IM SO PROUD, @mayyasofficial YOU DESERVE THIS!!!!” tweeted “AGT” judge Sofia Vergara after the group were crowned winners.
The dancers gifted Vergara a necklace with a symbol of the Lebanese cedar tree that she showed off in her interview with LBCI Lebanon after the episode aired.
“I come from Barranquilla, Columbia, and in Barranquilla we have a gigantic community of Lebanese people, like Shakira for example. So we grew up eating Lebanese food, dancing to Lebanese music. It’s a country that is very close to my heart,” she told the broadcaster.
“I am so happy that, in moments of problems and trouble, every once in a while something so beautiful like Mayyas comes up and distracts everybody,” she added. “I am so happy that this is happening. I am glad. Those girls deserve the world.”
Meanwhile, judge Simon Cowell said: “This is big. I just think for them to represent the country in the way they did, with such talent, dignity and grace, and to do something which the whole world is going to look at, I think is huge.
“I could feel it in the room, this energy behind me and I thought: ‘No one is going to beat them,’” he added. “These people have the most extraordinary talent and they are such nice people. I wasn’t surprised. I can’t tell you how happy I was when I heard that name.”
Cowell believes that “world domination” is what’s next for Mayyas.
For their winning performance in Tuesday’s final, the group danced to Arabic beats wearing white outfits and using burlesque feather fans and sparkling globes of light.
The audience held up Lebanese flags in the hall as they cheered for the crew.
The dancers received a standing ovation from all four judges — Vergara, Cowell, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel.
“Fabulous. Another level,” said Vergara, who awarded Mayyas the golden buzzer after their first audition in June.
“This is what a million dollars looks like,” said Klum. “You brought your A-game every time you came, and tonight it was A-plus.”
Mandel said: “This is my favorite act ever on ‘AGT.’”
“That’s so great for you. It’s great for women, female empowerment, your culture...” he added.
The group have received strong backing from their Lebanese fans throughout the competition. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International launched an advertising campaign in the US with the slogan “Kermalak Ya Lebnen” — which translates to ‘For You Lebanon’ — to promote and support Mayyas.
LBCI backed the group with adverts on its TV and social media channels, and also worked with local and Arab media outlets in the US to support the campaign.
“Lebanese people around the world have shown us huge support,” Cherfan previously told Arab News. “We’ve been getting tons of messages. Everybody is backing Mayyas. Everybody is rooting for Mayyas. So I’m really thankful for the Lebanese diaspora that is being really supportive for Mayyas.”
Numerous celebrities also helped raise the group's profile.
“May you return with the title,” Lebanese singer Maya Diab wrote on her Instagram Stories after their final performance. “You raised the name of Lebanon just by showcasing art in this beautiful way that made the world talk about it. We love you and we are proud of you no matter what the result is.”
Superstar Haifa Wehbe also supported the group ahead of the final result.
“Mayyas wowed ‘America’s Got Talent’ judges and audience with a spectacular performance. Keep voting,” she said.
Dubai-based Lebanese influencer Karen Wazen wrote: “Speechless. It keeps getting better,” sharing a clip of their last performance.
Mayyas have been in the winning habit for some time when it comes to TV talent shows.
Cherfan, who was 14 when he fell in love with the world of dance, formed the group in order to compete in the sixth season of “Arabs Got Talent,” where the group dazzled, wowing judge and Lebanese pop star Najwa Karam who awarded them immediate entry to the final with her golden buzzer. They were ultimately crowned champions.
“I chose a female crew, because I wanted to deliver a message about female empowerment, as we all know that, even today, Arab women are still called names for being dancers. I wanted to prove how elegant, refined and beautiful dancing is,” Cherfan said in an Arab News interview at the time. “And who better than these gorgeous ladies to do so?”
But winning one of the most prestigious talent titles in the Middle East wasn’t enough. With success came self-inflicted pressure to do even better. “The golden buzzer, the standing ovation, the beautiful comments of the judges, and winning the title itself are challenges, because they are stress and responsibility — in those moments (all I am thinking is) ‘What’s next? How can I do better?’” Cherfan said.
That same year, Mayyas competed in “Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions,” a spin-off of “Britain’s Got Talent,” in which the group were the only act from the Middle East to participate.
The response from the judges and audience was overwhelming. “Absolutely genius — brilliant, inventive… (I’ve) never seen a dance like this ever on one of these shows,” said judge Simon Cowell at the time.