Monday, January 22, 2007

Super Girl - China's version of American Idol

Zhang Liang Ying, contestant on Super Girl

Sorry for the long delay in posting. So much work to do, and I have stumbled across so many interesting Asian pop videos. So where do I start?

When I was in China in the summer of 2006, I learned about a show called "Super Girl," (超级女声) officially known as Mengniu Yogurt Super Girl Contest (Megniu is the dairy company that sponsors it). It's the Chinese version of American Idol, which, as I have previously pointed out, is a copy (or franchise) of the British Pop Idol. Anyway, Super Girl caused a sensation because viewers get to vote, via text message, for the winner. Imagine, voting in China! Trust the masses to choose for themselves!

This show was watched by the largest audience in Chinese TV history, by millions (or should I say hundreds of millions?) of viewers. In fact, 400 million watched the finals in 2005, a number, as the Seattle Times (which I read via the China Daily) put it, was more than the combined populations of the United States and Britain!

When I was in Xian last summer, I searched for a pub that broadcast this show, so I could sip beer while watching it. I didn't find any, although I did bump into some cool Chinese college students (one spoke with a PERFECT American accent and knew all the New York punk bands even though he had never left China). In the end, I ended up channel surfing in my hotel room and came across clips of Super Girl on late night TV. I remember, in my drunken haze, a woman doing an horrible rendition of "I believe I can fly" and I was hooked, especially since some of the contestants were quite good-looking.

Hu Ling, 5th place finisher in the Changsha district

So I did some internet research, using wikipedia and youtube when I arrived back in the USA. Now the contestants range from comical (hey, they have their version of William Hung), to the sexy (Hu Ling in another outfit), to the simply amazing. You've got to check out Zhang Liang Ying , 3rd place contestant in 2005. Click on the picture at the top of this webpage or here for a clip of her singing a Chinese folk song...

Ok, so it wasn't a Chinese folk song. But wasn't it amazing how her voice sounded exactly like Mariah Carey's? It's as if all she did was listen to Mariah Carey albums at home. I think she's got the pipes, looks, and charisma to make it in the U.S. (at least among Chinese Americans like me) if given the proper material. Also makes you realize that people around the world often listen to the same songs.

But as in real life, the best do not necessarily win. Just listen to the Super Girl winners. In 2005, Li Yuchun took the top prize. Click here or the picture below for a youtube clip of her singing a stirring rendition of a "Chinese folk song."

Li Yuchun, 2005 winner

In 2006, Shao Wenjie 尚雯婕 took first place. Hmmm...note the resemblance? (Actually, she seems to sing quite well.)

Shao Wenjie, 2006 winner

In case you haven't noticed, both winners look like young boys. Kind of the androgynous look of how Japanese boy singers look like young girls. Click here to see a commercial featuring Japan's hottest boy band, KAT-TUN. (For all you KAT-TUN fans out there, please do not flame me. I'm going be scolded by my wife for mocking them. That should be sufficient punishment). What's with the fascination with androgyny in East Asia?

To me (and the 100+ international students, including Chinese, that I informally surveyed), Zhang (the Mariah soundalike) should have won hands down (sorry if I offended Li fans). Seems like voters don't necessarily look for talent. In fact, Super Girl makes you think about how we elect our politicians in America...

2 comments: said...

Yeah, Zhang is a huge fan of Mariah Carey since a young girl, but we don't need a second MC, right?

You can find a dozen of Zhang like singer in China, she's not so unique.

Vocal Technique can be trained while Character changes hard. Li is someone unique with a special vocal range, stage charisma, natural style and inner charm, not quite a figure of worship but beyond the mortal plane.

Too much to count!

Kakure Gaijin said...

True, I can see why Li is so popular among Chinese women as she has a unique look, and in my opinion, seems more approachable than the "glamour" singers like Zhang. I"m glad that shows like Super Girl exist to showcase China's talent.

Did you know that Chinese is the third most frequently spoken language in the U.S. (English is first, Spanish second? So a tour by the Super Girl stars might do well in cities with large Chinese populations like Los Angeles or New York.