If there was an Arab version of E!, Raya Abirached would be the face of the channel. She is no doubt the biggest Middle Eastern journalist and presenter in Hollywood — thanks to the access she has to some of the biggest names in show business.
Lebanese Raya, who has been presenting the top-rated Arab celebrity show Scoop on MBC1 for years, has a lot to smile about these days. Not only has her flagship show moved to MBC2's new HD channel, it has also been extended to include bigger segments thanks to its popularity. She's also back presenting MBC4's second season of Arabs Got Talent (AGT), which begins tomorrow. To top it all, the presenter recently got married, and she fills us in on how her Italian husband moved countries to be with her: "He moved from Italy to London for love — for me," she smiles proudly. "Because of my job, I couldn't move. London still has to be the centre of my world."
The self-confessed Twitter addict was in Dubai recently promoting the shows. We caught up with her to find out the scoop!
Tell us more about the new Scoop.
It's a re-launch on the new HD channel, and I think it was a natural progression for us to move to a movie channel. It's still Scoop — and still encompasses the essence of Scoop — therefore still offering access to the stars; however, it is now called Scoop with Raya. Not because I am so vain, but before it would just be interviews. We're now scripting the show in a more personal way, where I'll be offering my views in addition to the interviews. Never before have viewers seen what I really think of Angelina Jolie or what George Clooney tells me behind the scenes, for instance.
The second thing we're introducing is that we realise that the gossip segment is important to our viewers so we are expanding on that — it's very celebrity-packed. We're also introducing a fashion segment where I check out the fashion at red carpet events. Because we have access to celebs more than any other show in the Middle East, we want our viewers to feel that they are represented there.
You're very active on Twitter with viewers able to tweet you at @rayascoop. What's your take on social media?
Social media has changed news. It started with entertainment news and caught on with everything else. We have introduced a segment called Twitter Scoop, where viewers can tweet me their questions to celebrities. So, for example, right now, viewers have been sending me their questions to Vanessa Hudgens and Taylor Swift. It makes the fans close to the stars. I tweet live from the Oscars and all the award ceremonies — I always tweet myself. There's no point being on Twitter if you don't tweet yourself. It's important, because fans tell me what they like. They're the ones that told me about people like Justin Bieber, Robert Pattinson and even K-pop stars! Twitter has changed the way I work — fans inform me of what they like and I inform them on what's hot.
What's coming up on the upcoming shows?
We're featuring Julia Roberts, Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie and Vanessa Hudgens.
With Scoop being a programme that shows in the Middle East, have you ever had problems obtaining access to celebs?
Personally I have never have had problems because the show is shown in the Middle East or the Arab world. To me it is a myth.
You also have another big project coming up: Season Two of Arabs Got Talent. What can you tell us?
We've given viewers a two-week break after Arab Idol so everyone can refresh. I cannot go into detail about the auditions, because AGT is all about the element of surprise. It's so exciting. And it's lovely to see contestants from the whole Arab world.
We have a new judge, Nasser Al Kasabi, who is a huge star in the GCC. He has been in showbiz for 18 years and is the star of Tash Ma Tash. There's a fantastic dynamic between him, Ali [Jaber] and Najwa [Karam].
And you're back with Saudi presenter Qusai.
Qusai is like a brother to me; he's a lovely person. The thing is, we're not actors — we're presenters, so the chemistry between us is real. I have so much respect for him as an artist.
RAYA GIVES TABLOID! HER PERSONAL SCOOP
Who is the one celebrity you would love to interview and haven’t managed to meet yet?
The only one is Oprah, because she has a huge following in the Middle East. But we always get the same answer from her publicist: “Sorry, Ms Winfrey is so busy right now.” One day it will happen!
Has interviewing a celebrity made you change their mind about them?
Yes, when I was interviewing James Cameron for the launch of Titanic 3D, I thought he would be incredibly intimidating, but he was very nice. And so passionate about what he does. Same for Steven Spielberg!
Have you dreaded any interviews?
I am not a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. I do not like his humour. I was interviewing him for Borat, and he insisted on being interviewed as the character Borat. I was thinking to myself “I am a professional – I can do this!”
Were you a fan of anyone, but were so disappointed after the interview you stopped being a fan?
Because I interview celebrities several times, I have the opportunity to change my mind. However, the Arab press still talks about the first interview I did with Julia Roberts for Mona Lisa Smile – she was so aggressive and so standoffish, I just didn’t know why. However, after becoming a mom, she has mellowed. I hear she prefers being interviewed by gentlemen rather than ladies.
Who are the nicest celebs?
Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. These celebrities are still excited about what they do. Celebrities do not become huge for no reason.
Finally, what do you think about Angelina Jolie leg incident at the Oscars?
She is very eclectic. A week before she was receiving a humanitarian award, and then at the Oscars she was showing off her legs. I don’t know why she did it, but sometimes I wear a dress, then go to the red carpet and feel that its not flattering. So I think she just needed to spice up this thick velvety dress!
Haifa's legal woes
Haifa Wehbe is apparently facing a lawsuit by the family of her former fiance, the late Tarek Al Jafali, after refusing to give up the Beirut apartment the wealthy Saudi businessman bought her when they were together.
According to Arab media reports, the Lebanese singer is seeking the assistance of an important Saudi figure to interfere and try and convince the Al Jafali family to drop charges against her.
The apartment — which is estimated to be worth $3 million (Dh11.01 million) — was bought by Al Jafali as an engagement gift for Haifa. Although written in her name, the contract apparently states that Haifa cannot sell the property without the approval of the Al Jafali family.
Al Jafali passed away in 2008.
Tamer picks Snoop Dogg
As if he didn't learn enough after the release of his duet with Shaggy (which was slammed by critics), Tamer Hosney has now decided to collaborate with Snoop Dogg.
Apparently the Egyptian singer has headed to Los Angeles to work on his first English-Arabic album, called One Little World, and on it will be a song with the US hip-hop star.
Si Al Sayed will be recorded shortly, with a music video to be shot soon in Hollywood.
"Thank you all for your condolences. I am in good health, and I am grateful that you have been praying for my mother."
— Egyptian singer Amr Diab
"I am neither married nor pregnant! My mother unintentionally created this rumour after she said in an interview she couldn't wait to see her grandchildren. She meant in the future!"
— Egyptian actress Menna Shalaby