The 'Israeli Idol' Who Lived Up to Her Name

Six years after making her mark on the popular talent show 'Kochav Nolad,' Marina Maximilian (Blumin) Karni releases a new single from her long-anticipated debut album.

Marina Maximilian (nee Blumin ) Karni, 25, stands on a stage flooded with ruddy light, arms stretched out and hair swept to the side, looking very much the femme fatale. The theatrical ambience she creates on the stage makes it easy to forget that it is not nighttime in a dim, smoky nightclub, but rather a record launch on a rainy morning. Six years after coming to the public's attention as the most talented female competitor on "Kochav Nolad" (in Hebrew, "A Star is Born, the Israeli version of "American Idol" ), placing second, and after innumerable experiments in music and other performing arts, she has a new single that heralds a first album.

"Two Pigs," a single launched on Tuesday at Tel Aviv's Zappa Club, was produced by Ofer Meiri. Judging by the three cuts that have been released so far, the femme fatale image on the stage suits the musical identity of the album, which does not yet have a release. Karni wrote the songs on the album in English, composing the music together with Meiri. From the stage, before she sang, Karni explained, "I've talked a lot about when the album is coming out already, but we felt that something hadn't yet jelled. Out of respect for the way of the artist and for the time that is needed, we waited."

The extra time taken is palpable, particularly in an enormous sense of excitement. "Kochav Nolad" producer Tamira Yardeni, who is Karni's manager, called the occasion a "holiday." After the performance, in the artists' lounge, Karni said: "I've known Ofer Meiri for a few years now. More accurately, I first pursued him a few years ago. We talked about it, but in terms of respecting the process and the magic of time, it wasn't the right time yet. Around six months ago, I was driving in my car and I suddenly thought of him."

'Why do I sing?'

Are you speaking about your maturation as an artist? What inside you changed?

"I think I realized it from the quality of the questions I was asking myself and from the place from which I asked questions. From where do I create? Why do I sing? What goes through my body and mind when I face an audience? What are my motivations? These are questions that I ask all the time."

And the answer changes all the time?

"It changes all the time, and the quality of from where the question is asked changes. On one hand I had great impatience. I wanted to do it already, and also I switched my show every year and had a different show all the time. We talked about the possibility of documenting the show when we realized there wouldn't be an album, but we knew we were incapable of bringing ourselves to record it.

"It isn't good enough that I sing a ton of songs, that I'm on stage and that I've gone through a whole lot of phases? We are also in an age in which everything leaks quickly. I finish performing and the same night it's already on YouTube. When I give this gift to my listeners I want my album to be special. It's a very demanding process as well, recording an album. Each time I felt that I have more things to learn."

More than two years ago Karni released a single in Hebrew, "Amok Batel," with words by the legendary Israeli poet Lea Goldberg and produced by Tamir Muskat. The single, with its "world music" feel, was supposed to be followed by the album that is now in the pipeline. Karni explains: "I went through a major change with my voice, which I didn't know how to understand at first. It's fine now, we have come full circle, but there was a period when it got dramatically lower and became raspy. My vocal cords thickened greatly. All sorts of things happened, things that I realized were happening in preparation for something, and that I needed to respect them. As an artist there are things I cannot understand, but that is my way. My impatience and desire to achieve cannot be my motivation, and I must not listen to it. My staff is almost all women, which means there's a huge amount of intuition and respect for intuition. When we feel something, we feel it."

Why is the entire album in English?

"That's what came together. The material in Hebrew, we tried to work on it for a few years. I worked on special things with Tami Muskat and this was something different. My connection to Hebrew is different. I still have more to discover and to solve."

Over the past six years you have expanded into many different areas - television, acting, modeling. Is your core definition still as a musician?

"Yes, very much so. That expansion, it's all ammunition for the performing arts, but when we talk about it now, in retrospect it appears that the expansion gave me the time to get myself together. I could have dealt with the same things I deal with as a singer, without that frenzy to self-actualize. I dealt with the creative process from different angles and also developed as a performer that way."

The drawback of spreading out like that is in being identified as an entertainer, a celebrity or an actor, and not necessarily as a musician.

"Things happen naturally. I did television for a long time. That was then. Now we're all putting an emphasis on the album and I assume that it will be the focus. I don't worry about looking at myself from the outside. I feel good being in television during periods when I do less music. People will say what they will. It's not really about me."

Is it scary to bring out an album after so much time?

"I've gotten through my whole life without an album," Karni says with a laugh. "I'm very excited. I'm not afraid, but I am excited. I am at peace with myself. I didn't release an album before because I couldn't think about doing something I wasn't at peace with. It's only now that I'm interested in giving this thing to the world, and I am ready for all the criticism."

Goni Riskin