His comments came at a performance as part of Dubai Music Week, where five acts from across the region performed in front of a panel of celebrity judges, in the style of X-Factor.
Will.i.am was also a fan of Abri. The Black Eyed Peas frontman said: ‘You can tell when someone has experience from the way they walk onstage. He [Abri] walked on and said “I own this”. I really enjoyed myself.’
Producing veteran Timbaland – who’s worked with scores of artists including Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake – added: ‘Well, that was good. I wanted to hear more – I wanted to hear another song.’
Despite the praise Al-Abri lost out on the chance to work with Quincy Jones, with the competition’s top prize going to Lebanese singer Xriss Jor after she received three unanimous votes from the panel for a performance of ‘Listen’ by Beyoncé.
‘You sing amazing,’ Will.i.am told her, ‘I’d like to collaborate [with you].’
‘I can see you being super-huge,’ added Timbaland, ‘you’re probably the hottest thing in Lebanon.
‘There are a lot of artists but there are not a lot of stars; you have the potential to be a star. I’d love to work with you.’
The UAE’s Jay Wud also impressed the judges. Timbaland praised Wud’s performance of ‘a great rock song’, adding ‘I wanted to turn his guitar up – but it would have scared the audience’.
Sudanese-born, Abu Dhabi-based singer Nile also wowed the panel, at Dubai World Trade Centre on Wednesday September 25, after performing solo with just his guitar for backing.
‘He’s real,’ said Jones. ‘He’s really real – he’s got style.’
‘That was great,’ added Timbaland. ‘To me, he’s an artist. Just him and a guitar – that means he’s one [with the guitar], like a pilot flying a plane. And what I thought was just amazing was his voice.’
Only Dubai-based electro-pop singer DD Foxx failed to attract the judge’s praise. ‘This [music] was created in a vacuum,’ said Will.i.am following the Lebanese artist’s performance. ‘A lot of people, when they hear a sample, think “I can do that too” – but the simplest thing is the hardest thing’.