Pop diva Zhang Liangying at a Beijing press release promoting her album in 2006.
Though wildly popular, the Idol singing competitions in the West are viewed with much skepticism. Despite showing talent and having a large fan base, participants often find themselves pigeonholed. Critics claim that the competition offers an easy shortcut to stardom, and calls for neither talent nor hard work.
But 2005 Super Girl (China's version of Idol) participant Zhang Liangying believes it is not as simple as it seems. "It's very complicated," she says. "I have only one word to describe it: tiring."
Zhang, better known as Jane Zhang, has been trying to free herself from the pop image her performance in China's Idol competition earned her, three years ago. Dubbed "Dolphin Princess" for the uncommon flexibility of her vocal range, Zhang's journey toward a more "artistic" musical career has been easier than that of many of her peers.
Just one year after the completion of 2005's Super Girl, Zhang found herself collaborating with two of China's most respected musicians. She sang the theme song for the 2006 film The Banquet, joining hands with avant-garde composer Tan Dun and award-winning pianist Lang Lang. Most singers can only expect to work on such high-profile projects at the peak of their careers.