Egypt’s got one. Gaza’s got one. Now Syria has its own Arab Idol as voters pick 21-year-old singer Hazem Shareef as their champ.

Hazem Shareef, from Syria’s battle-ravaged northern city of Aleppo, has won the annual Arab Idol singing competition. The 21-year-old cutie with his velvety voice, steady performances and good looks was a firm favourite throughout the four-month competition.

He beat Palestinian and Saudi rivals in the final on Saturday Dec 13, which was televised to millions of viewers across the Arab world – and then prayed to God to end calamities in his country. But after his victory, Hazem steered clear of specific political references in his interviews and Facebook messages.

Meanwhile, fans posted videos on social media which they said showed celebrations in Aleppo, which is at the centre of a fierce battle between pro-government forces and insurgent groups. In the government-held capital Damascus, people celebrated in restaurants and waved the Syrian national flag in the streets.

Syrian singer Hazem Sharif gestures as he stands on stage after being announced winner during the Season 3 finale of Arab Idol in Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon. – Reuters/Mohamed Azakir

Unlike last year’s winner Mohammed Assaf from Gaza, who frequently donned the chequered keffiyeh popularly associated with Palestinian nationalism, Hazem didn’t wave a flag to mark his win but dedicated his performance in the Beirut venue to the Syrian people and his family.

In a message on his Facebook page on Sunday, Hazem addressed a message to God, asking for him to “bring all harm to light” and to end “calamities”, a reference to the civil war that has killed around 200,000 people according to the UN.

State news agency SANA reported his win, saying that Hazem had been consistently well received by audiences across the region. “I just want to address the Syrian people and all of Syria. It would be my honour, and I wish, to have my first performance in Syria,” he told reporters.

Arab Idol, part of the international Pop Idol franchise that includes American Idol, premièred in December 2011 and was a ratings hit, bringing together contestants from all over the Arab Nation and letting television viewers eliminate them one by one through SMS votes. The competition’s big prize is a recording contract with Platinum Records. – Reuters

Next page: Arab Idol winners are doing better than American Idol winners.