'Super Voice Girls' challenges China's TV culture
With the rather strange title "Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl Contest", a televised singing show has recently sparked a nationwide mania.
"Super Girls makes a grand party for all the participants, who are ordinary people, to sing and experience the charms of TV," said Li Li, representing the organizer, the state-owned Hunan province satellite television station.
In 1997, it become famous for creating a game show involving pop stars, which soon spread across televisions throughout the country.
In 2004, it came up with the new "Super Girls" show, which is said to be inspired by the US show "American Idol." The programme attained giant success and influence this year.
Covering five provinces in China, including Hunan, Sichuan, Guangdong, Henan and Zhejiang, Super Girls has attracted more than 120,000 young women participants to the capital cities of these five provinces for preliminary selections.
Many of them wait in long lines for a whole day before registration and some even skipped school to enter the contest, which promises TV success for the lucky few.
An elimination contest procedure has been adopted for Super Girls and five rounds of regional competitions have been broadcast every week, drawing the sustained attention and exceeding expectations of viewers, since the series started in March.
What makes Super Girls particularly popular is that nearly half of the applicants have the chance to present a 30-second TV spot individually ¡ª the TV debut for most of them.
A show of this kind is called a "Hai Xuan" by the organizer, meaning an especially wide selection of applicants and now a fashionable expression.
"It is extremely interesting," said a 26 year-old viewer named He Xiaoyue. "You never know who will be the next player or what he or she will do. It is just like a varied box of chocolates."
"It has turned into a reflection of reality and the situation of ordinary people, which proves emotionally satisfying for viewers," said Yu Hai, a sociologist working in Shanghai.
By last weekend, eight "super girls" had emerged, out of the 10 candidates in the national contest.
"According to CVSC-Sofres Media, the audience rating for Super Girls has reached 8 per cent in the country, ranking second or third at its broadcast time," said Li. This viewing rate is regarded as an unprecedented success for a provincial television station. This record may be reached again when the national final approaches in late August, involving the top three contestants.
In addition, the combination of television and mobile phones has proven to be a winning element of Super Girls.
The producer says the final ranking of the singers depends on the text messages sent in by viewers. This has become a common way for audiences to participate in Chinese TV shows.
In the Chengdu competition alone, the best three singers received a total of 307,071 message votes, each costing from 0.5 yuan to 3 yuan. According to the 21st Business Herald, income from message charges may account for 30 to 50 per cent of the total profits of the TV programme, even after a 15 per cent cut for the telecom suppliers is removed.
This guess was later denied by Wang Peng, board chairman of Tianyu Media, which handles the "Super Girls" brand under Hunan province satellite television. He said the show's income mainly comes from sponsors and advertisements.
"What we are paying more attention to is how to develop the brand. Someone told me the 'Super Girls' brand is now worth several hundred million yuan," he said.
The show proves the emerging new media age makes instant fame possible, just as Andy Warhol predicted: ¡°In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.¡±
¡°I will strive to get on TV, even to death,¡± said one girl named Zhou Ting from Sichuan Province when she joined in the Super Girls¡¯ group. Like Zhou, a large number of Chinese girls dream of becoming pop stars through TV shows, with their first step being the Super Girls.
Zhang Hanyun, a 16-year-old student who finished third in last year¡¯s national series has recently released her first album. Appearing frequently in print media and TV commercials as an endearing girl, she said she had wanted to become a star since childhood, although now she complained about the difficulty involved in losing weight.
More ¡°Super Girls¡± have emerged since, with their excellent singing skills receiving wide recognition from the show¡¯s young audience. ¡°The long series of contests feels like a TV play that you can¡¯t bear to miss, especially when your favourite singer is on,¡± said He, a fan of the show. ¡°Some of them are really cool and brilliant in the show. It is unbelievable that previously they were as ordinary as me.¡±
Liu Zhiyi, a Chinese student now living in Germany said he downloads Super Girls shows every week from the Internet. ¡°The Chinese people used to put more emphasis on collectivism in the past, but this contest offers young people an opportunity to reveal their personalities and realize their own values,¡± he said.
So far, nearly all the finalists in the national contest have been interviewed by the press, or invited to engage in online chat with their fans. Television has rapidly equipped them with the manner of true stars and driven hundred of thousands of people crazy for them.
¡°What¡¯s more, the judges in the contest talk more freely and bluntly, quite different from those in formal competitions,¡± said Fan Ning, another viewer. It seems that the ¡°Super Girls¡± themselves are not the only stars ¡ª they are accompanied by a team of judges comprised of pop singers, critics and programme designers who have also won fame for their styles of commentary.
¡°I scold those girls who want to become celebrities but have no chance of doing so, in the hope of driving them back to school,¡± said Xia Qing, one of the judges and show producers. Ke Yimin, a pop singer from Taiwan, has even been opposed by many viewers after criticizing their favourite singer.
¡°Actually, judges are also performers, to some extent,¡± said Wang Peng, ¡°The shows are more attractive because of the conflicts they involve.¡±