What Happened to the Filipina Caregiver Who Won Israel's Inaugural X-Factor?

Itay Stern
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'Israel's Susan Boyle' was the surprise winner of the X-Factor.Credit: David Bachar
Itay Stern

“I’m disappointed,” says Rose Fostanes, last season’s winner on The X-Factor Israel. “I thought my dream would really come true and I’d have a music career. The thing that really makes me sad is that when I went on stage for the first time I was totally insecure and I thought I had no chance, but then things started to change and I started to believe in myself. It was a wonderful feeling, to be given an opportunity. But then things turned out the way they did and I feel terrible again.”

The contrast between the glittery promos for the second season of X-Factor, which is about to begin, and the meager conditions in which Fostanes now lives, is heartbreaking. A small window lets a little light into a space cluttered with cardboard packing boxes. The plain twin bed is crammed in among the other objects and the piles of bureaucratic paperwork, and the wall decorations from the Philippines don’t add much cheer to the cramped room.

This kind of lodging is fairly typical for migrants in south Tel Aviv – but it wasn’t supposed to be this way for Fostanes, who was supposed to reap the fruits of her great talent. But worse than the rather miserable living conditions is that, in yet another one of the unfortunate twists and turns that followed her win, she may soon be expelled from the country.

When Fostanes walked on the X-Factor stage in the Nokia Arena for her first audition before the judges, what ensued was a triumphant moment in Israeli television. A short and plump migrant laborer from the Philippines who was working in Israel as a caregiver for the elderly took the stage wearing jeans and a simple green shirt and, without further ado, began to sing Shirley Bassey’s “This is My Life.” The performance stunned the audience in the arena and the judges, who all gave her a rousing standing ovation. It was a show of appreciation for someone who had broken through her own glass ceiling, as well as that of her community. And she also helped to send the ratings sky-high.

Rose Fostanes at the X-Factor final. Photo by David Bachar

Step after step, she made it to the top, beating out a host of younger and hotter contestants. Fostanes and the people from Reshet television and the Aroma Music production company, which represents the X-Factor winners, then began trying to persuade the Interior Ministry to grant her permission to remain in Israel and perform here, despite her status as a migrant worker.

Gideon Sa’ar, the interior minister at the time, granted her a special visa to enable her to stay in Israel and also work as a singer. The headlines celebrated this achievement and Fostanes was ready to get her career going.

But after the big confetti shower following her victory, and despite all the love she received from fans, the opportunities quickly dried up. She’d stopped working as a caregiver, leaving her without a regular salary, but meanwhile, musical success was not materializing. The contract, dictated to Reshet and Aroma Music by Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment company, which developed the X-Factor format, does make big promises, but like many of the contracts used on talent contest shows, there are also numerous qualifications and escape clauses.

For instance, the contract states that in the three years it is in effect, the artist will only perform at events approved by Aroma Music. But Aroma Music, wanting to maintain Fostanes’ new star status, prevented her from performing at the smaller venues she was used to, and from which she could have earned a living. The bigger shows she took part in, such as the Independence Day shows in Acre and Tiberias, and three shows in Australia, did not leave her with any profits, since this income was deducted from the sums that the company invested in her shows and promotion. She was left with just the NIS 90,000 that she won in the competition, spread out over 18 months, leaving her with just NIS 3,000-4,000 monthly (after deducting a NIS 15,000 loan she needed right at the beginning) – similar pay to what she was making as a caregiver.

The contract also states that the company will release an album by the winner – but may also reduce this to just a single or two. Aroma Music did try to promote the winner, but her debut single, “Walk Away,” which was produced and composed by Ofer Meiri, didn’t gain much radio play.

Rose Fostanes became an overnight celebrity in Israel's Filipino migrant community. Photo by David Bachar

“Rose has a huge talent and amazing vocal ability, and she’s a nice person,” says Meiri. “But she doesn’t have the mentality of a singer.”

Aroma Music also wanted to organize an evening for Fostanes at the Zappa Club, but the box office showing was quite poor, and after that her chances of finding success in Israel only continued to dwindle.

But the production company still thought she had a chance of making it big in the Philippines, and so Fostanes found herself on a plane back to her homeland. She was welcomed back with great fanfare. She got to leave her handprints in the country’s sidewalk of the stars, and was booked as a guest on all the talk shows, which dubbed her “the Israeli Susan Boyle.” The album she released through Star Records in the Philippines also included the debut single that was produced in Israel. But the album, which seemed to be doing well at first, never really took off there, because Fostanes hurried back to Israel.

Maybe Silvan Shalom

Today, Rose Fostanes lives alone in a subdivided apartment two minutes’ walk from Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, surrounded by big cardboard boxes that hold all her possessions. Only a black sequined gown hanging on the door gives any hint that there were once any preparations being made for a big show. She returned from the Philippines not long ago, and now she might be expelled by the immigration authorities.

A month ago, it appeared that things were going to work out when Aroma Music submitted a request for an artist visa for her, but now the authorities say that two weeks ago the company withdrew its visa request, which leaves Fostanes without legal status in Israel.

Aroma Music representatives confirmed that Fostanes’ current visa expired a month ago and said that since she did not produce profits for them, they cannot request an artist visa for her, which would require them to pay her a monthly salary for a year. They don’t believe that Rose could make a living during this year from music alone. But company representatives said they are still making a big effort to enable her to stay in Israel, by making a special request to Interior Minister Silvan Shalom to grant her a temporary resident’s visa.

“We are hopeful that a solution will be found to obtain an alternative visa that will enable her to make a living from other jobs as well,” says the company, repeating that it cannot extend financial sponsorship to Fostanes despite its respect for her talent. Aroma Music is thus essentially ending its contract with Fostanes about a year before it was due to end. The option to terminate the connection before the full period of the contract expires is also written into the contract that Fostanes signed, as did all the other contestants.

“Rose is a very talented singer and we would have been happy to see her musical career take off in Israel too,” says Michal Weissberg of Aroma Music. “As a record company, we tried to develop a big career for her in Israel and abroad, but it takes years to build a career, with hard work and patience.”

Weissberg also said that she could see Fostanes eventually making a living from smaller shows. But not with them.

The company explains that the reason why Fostanes did not make any money from her performances on Independence Day and in Australia has to do with a clause of the contract that says the company and the artist will split the profits from the show equally. Aroma Music says that their expenses paid for Fostanes – for the shows, the flight to the Philippines and so on – far exceeded their income. As to Fostanes’ claim that she has also yet to receive any royalties from her performances and album sales in the Philippines, Aroma Music says this is true but they have yet to receive the money for that despite repeated requests. “We’re confident we will get the money. Star Records is a serious company,” they say.

Not so nice

Fostanes adamantly refuses to ascribe her lack of success in Israel to anything like racism. “I love the Israelis and I know that they love me. At first I thought I’d encounter discrimination because of my ethnicity, but then I saw how every day people would come up to me in the street and ask where I’d been and why wasn’t I performing more – and that’s also the reason why I want to stay. I believe I can grow as an artist from the bottom up. I don’t mind performing in small places, in bars, on television shows, like new artists do.”

Why didn’t you give yourself more time to make it in the Philippines?

“I didn’t win the audience’s love in the Philippines. I won in Israel and I want to give back to the audience that chose me. When I asked the people at Aroma Music why they weren’t producing an album for me, they said there isn’t enough demand for songs in English, but from the reactions I get from people all the time, I can see that people definitely want to hear me.”

Before coming to the X-Factor, Fostanes was in a Filipino band called Daddy’s Cool Band, which played mostly for the migrants living near the bus station. Today she looks back on those days fondly. “I loved singing with my friends and we had wonderful evenings together, but then I won on the show and I was told not to keep performing with them, because they told me a respectable singer wouldn’t sing in those kinds of little clubs. That it’s not appropriate. So I really stopped. Now I kind of regret it. I think I might have been better off altogether if I hadn’t won the show and would have continued working as a caregiver. At least that way I could keep on taking care of my family and send them money every month.”

Besides the letters of support received from the Philippines’ Ambassador to Israel and a host of other recommendations, she hopes that because people in Israel do want to hear her, she will be able to perform. Another possibility is that she could obtain an artist visa through a new manager who would sponsor her and pay her a regular salary.

“I’m ready to do whatever it takes,” says Fostanes. “I know I’m not that beautiful and I know that I’m not the typical singer that everyone’s looking for, but I believe that if I’m just given the opportunity, I’ll prove that I can succeed. I understand the situation that I’m in and the only thing I hope is that the people in the Interior Ministry will understand that I’m a human being just like them, that they’ll understand how important this opportunity is that they can give me.”

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