Singing Filipino helper Rose Fostanes wins hearts on X Factor in Israel
Filipino caregiver living in downtrodden area of Tel Aviv is a favourite to win TV show, with her powerful voice making her a household name
A 47-year-old Filipino domestic helper has emerged as the newest star of Israeli television, putting a human face on the thousands of foreign workers in the country.
Viewers of Israel's popular reality shows have grown accustomed to successful candidates from various backgrounds, including black-clad ultra-Orthodox Jews, Ethiopian immigrants and a German convert to Judaism who became a celebrity chef.
But they've never seen someone like Rose Fostanes before.
The tiny woman with a booming voice has taken The X Factor Israel by storm and emerged as a national phenomenon. Known simply as "Rose", she is mobbed by fans wherever she goes.
"It's a big change in my life because before, nobody knew me. But now everybody in Israel knows my name. And it is very funny," she said.
Fostanes arrived six years ago to work as helper so, like millions of other Filipino workers around the world, she could send money back home to her family and her girlfriend.
She spends her days caring and cleaning for an ailing woman in her 50s. To save money, Fostanes lives with seven others in a crowded apartment in south Tel Aviv, a downtrodden area inhabited by foreign labourers.
Until recently, Fostanes was just one of the thousands of Filipinos who work in similar positions in Israel.
The site of Filipino workers wheeling elderly Israelis in public places is so common that the word "Filipini" has become synonymous with "caregiver".
Then, several months ago, a friend encouraged her to enter The X Factor Israel competition, a popular show hosted by Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli.
Standing just 1.5 metres tall, Fostanes has captured her audiences' hearts with a surprisingly strong and soulful voice, belting out hits including Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and Lady Gaga's You And I.
Watch: Rose Fostanes on 'X Factor Israel'
She is among the final five contestants and widely seen as a favourite. Israeli singer Shiri Maimon, a judge on the show and a former reality television contestant herself, has served as Fostanes' "mentor" throughout the season.
After a recent rendition of Christina Aguilera's Beautiful, Maimon could barely contain her excitement.
"It was so moving. I am so proud of you. We will have an amazing journey together," she said. "I'm speechless. It was more than perfect."
Fostanes said she dreamed of singing since she was a child, but suffered discrimination because of her appearance. She said she still can't believe how far she has come. "Sometimes I am asking myself, 'Is it true that it happened to me?'" she said.
"At least I can express myself and show the people that I also have talents and it's not too late for me to shine."
Fostanes said she has been a helper since the age of 23, working in Egypt and Lebanon before arriving in Israel. She is among the roughly 10 million Filipinos, or 10 per cent of the overall population, who work abroad.
Israel's 40,000 Filipinos enjoy relative freedom, as long as they have work permits. Most remain for an agreed-upon period of time before returning home.
Fostanes said Filipinos around the world have heard about her and frequently send her text messages of support.
But her success has been tempered by the distance from her loved ones. She last visited the Philippines two years ago.
"Really I miss them, my family especially, and of course my girlfriend, because this is the time I really need them beside me," she said, with tears in her eyes. "I need their support."