China's got talent, too - but another Susan Boyle? Opinion is divided.
Happy Girls (Kuaile Nusheng), a show aimed at finding divas-to-be, seems the likeliest stage for a "Chinese Boyle".
The annual show (formerly known as Super Girls) and its male version, Happy Boys, is highly popular and has seen many former winners translate their success into their careers.
Gong Mi, an 18-year-old student of Beijing Film Academy, said to resemble Hong Kong star Cecilia Cheung, is among the hottest in this year's grand talent show program Happy Girls. Zhao Ke
Jane Zhang, the second runner-up in 2005, performed on the Oprah Winfrey show last month and is now an A-list singer. Chris Lee, the 2005 champion, has millions of devoted fans and will make her film debut this winter.
Following its one-year break in 2008, this year's contest has had a predictable deluge of applicants - 150,000 - a 50 percent increase over 2006 and 2007, according to Li Hao, spokesman for the show's producer, Hunan TV.
So far the talk has been more about looks than talent.
The most talked-about contestant is Gong Mi, an 18-year-old student of Beijing Film Academy, who is said to resemble Cecilia Cheung, the Hong Kong actress involved in the Edison Chen sex photo scandal.
Gong has frequently been in the news, first due to her good looks, then a rumor that it took plastic surgery to achieve it and now because her manager is said to have been Cheung's first agent.
Prominently displayed on the show's official website were photos of Gong and several other hopefuls, including Luo Zhenhuan, a pretty face known as the "flower of campus" in Chengdu, and Tao Le, a former model.
"I don't think a Chinese Susan Boyle will come out of this show," says Tan Fei, culture critic and co-organizer of A Dream of the Red Mansion, a show to find actors for a TV adaptation of the classic novel.
"Most viewers of China's talent shows fall into the 15-35 age bracket. They care more about look and fashion."
Some quasi-Susan Boyles are still in the wings, however.
Wu Baiwei, a 79-year-old retired teacher, impressed judges with a folk song last month in Xi'an, one of 25 audition sites across the country. One judge was so bowled over he even knelt before her to exaggerate his admiration.
She was immediately labeled "China's Susan Boyle" but her 15 minutes of fame ended when the judges ruled her out of further participation on health grounds, saying "it would be too exhausting for this elderly lady to continue in the subsequent contests".
Far from being downcast, however, Wu was reportedly "happy about the result and enjoyed the whole process of taking part".
Another hopeful, Liao Zhongxiu, 62, has been rather luckier - she has made it into the top 300 who will compete for the top-20 final over the next 10 days.
Meanwhile, Li denies that the show favors pretty girls. "We focus on contestants' singing and impromptu stage performances - it is absolutely possible that we will have our own Susan Boyle," he says.
Not that contestants' money-making potential is out of the equation, though. "The finalists have to sign contracts with EE Media (the show's co-organizer)," he says. "We must consider whether they will sell well as professional singers in today's market."