Even though 16-year-old singer Liel Kolet was born on a kibbutz in northern Israel, she'd prefer to be called an international artist rather than an Israeli one. That largely explains why many of the younger generation of Israeli rock/pop buffs would know little about her. Nor is she routinely counted among the growing crop of Israeli pop princesses, such as Shiri Maimon, who also will be performing in Los Angeles later this month. She hasn't released an album in Hebrew for wide distribution, and her English songs don't get Israeli radio play.
And that's just fine with Kolet. While the dark, curly-haired singer remains deeply connected to her Israeli roots -- even while trotting the globe in America, Europe and Canada -- she has her sights on the big leagues.
"From the start the idea was to build me as an international singer," she said.
And there are parallels with her idol, Celine Dion. As young singers, both set their sights on international stardom with the backing of a dedicated manager (Kolet's manager is Irit Ten-Hengel). Kolet, like Dion, has a clean and wholesome image, singing heartfelt songs about love, humanity and "the children." On May 20, Kolet will represent Switzerland at the Eurovision singing contest, just as Dion, originally from Canada, did in 1988. The title of Kolet's debut album is "Unison," also the title of Dion's hit debut.
"I'm not trying to be Celine Dion -- we don't have same kind of music -- but what she achieved in her career and the steps she's been through and what she represents are an example to me," said Kolet in a very slight Israeli accent during a telephone interview. "She is an example of what an artist should be: She has an amazing voice and presence on stage that really touches to the heart of people. People come to hear her voice. That to me is what an artist is about."
Kolet has a powerful voice and range, but Israeli-born female vocalists have notoriously failed to make a successful U.S. crossover. With the possible exception of Ofra Haza, another of Kolet's favorites, Israeli divas usually fare better in Europe, which is generally more open to musical diversity.
Still, Ten-Hengel, Kolet's international manager, left her prestigious career as a music executive at Sony Europe to focus solely on Kolet, because she has little doubt that Kolet will achieve her dreams.
"Mark my word: When she's 18, she's huge in America," said Ten-Hengel. "She has the whole package -- voice, personality, love for music, passion and angelic beauty."
A select audience will judge for themselves when Kolet headlines the May 24 black-tie award dinner of the International Visitor's Council. Music industry bigwigs are expected to be there for their own look, including Grammy-award winning producer David Foster, who has produced several of Dion's hits. Ken Kragen, Kolet's U.S.-based manager, is the dinner's honoree for his production of humanitarian projects, including We Are the World and Hands Across America.
A veteran manager of such artists as Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Olivia Newton John and the Bee Gees, Kragen came across Kolet two years ago when he saw a video of her performance at the 80th birthday celebration for former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. At the star- and diplomat-studded event, Kolet spontaneously called Bill Clinton to the stage to sing a duet with her of Lennon's "Imagine." It happened to be one of her best career moves.
"I realized this lady had amazing poise and ability and was a wonderful singer with an amazing voice," Kragen said.
Two years ago, Kragen introduced the aspiring starlet to American music industry executives in Los Angeles.
With no major American record deals were in the offing, Kolet spent the last two years building up an impressive resume of performances in Europe, particularly in Germany, where she has won several awards. Her management believes that she's now poised to conquer North America, making her upcoming visit to Los Angeles all the more significant.
"It's not easy," Kragen said. "The record industry today is much less inclined to sign new acts. The difference now is that there's a track record in Europe."
Kolet's participation in charity events has put her onstage with artists such as Elton John, U2's Bono and, most recently, Andrea Boccelli. She has developed a close working relationship with Klaus Meine of the legendary German rock band, the Scorpions, having performed with him last year in Israel.
Her first international album, "Unison," is a potpourri of ethnic-tinged love ballads, upbeat pop songs and music with a "message"; it includes three duets with Meine. Their take on Naomi Shemer's "Jerusalem of Gold" is the most Israeli song on the album, reflecting the Israeli pride she says she'll always carry with her.
As Kolet put it: "Singing for peace and everything that I do and my charity events are because I grew-up in Israel."
For more information on Liel Kolet, visit www.liel.net.
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