UPDATE 1-Filipina caregiver wins Israel's X-Factor song contest

Wed Jan 15, 2014 12:57pm EST

(Edits, adds winner's comments)

JERUSALEM Jan 15 (Reuters) - A Filipina caregiver, once part of a faceless crowd of foreign workers who tend to Israel's infirm and elderly, has surprised the country by winning one of its most popular TV singing contests.

Competing in Israel's X-Factor, Rose Fostanes, 47, swept the judges off their feet with a tear-jerking rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" on Tuesday night's live final.

Her victory came as a surprise in Israel, where about 20,000 Filipinos work mostly as caregivers and cleaners. In the run-up to the final, Fostanes said she hoped her popularity on the show would shine a spotlight on Israel's low-paid foreign workers.

"I didn't expect that I will win," Fostanes told reporters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, speaking in English. "Because I'm not Israeli and I don't have residence here and I'm only a worker," she said.

For many Israelis, the word "Filipino" has become synonymous with caregiver, and Fostanes' appearance and success on X-Factor could help break the stereotype.

Fostanes, who came to Israel several years ago, has been working for about 20 years across the Middle East, and currently cares for an ailing woman in Tel Aviv.

She has been compared to the Scottish singer Susan Boyle, 52, who shot to fame in 2009 after appearing on the TV show "Britain's Got Talent" and performing "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical "Les Miserables".

Boyle's rise from unknown to multi-million-selling recording artist has been made into a musical.

According to Israeli law, work visas are given to foreign caregivers on condition they stick to their job, so Fostanes is not permitted to be paid for recording an album or performing.

The interior ministry does, however, have the power to make exceptions to that rule.

"If she applies to change this, her request will be looked at just as all applications are," an official at the Israeli Immigration Authority said.

Asked on Channel Two television whether she planned to return to the Philippines to pursue a music career, Fostanes said: "If they give me a chance to do it here, I will do it here." Until then, she said, she would go back to caregiving. (Writing by Maayan Lubell and ori Lewis, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mike Collett-White)