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Chorus of approval for song contest

By Li Yingxue | China Daily | Updated: 2022-11-16 07:48
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Liang Yuying (left), champion of this year's Sing! China, performs with her coach, Hong Kong singer Hacken Lee, in the final stage of the singing competition. [Photo provided to China Daily]

New talent in the spotlight as TV show provides stage for inspirational performances, Li Yingxue reports.

Liang Yuying, 26, has never sung in front of her family. Singing since childhood, she became a bar performer after graduation from her singing major, but never once did she pluck up the courage and sing in front of her loved ones.

That situation changed in the most dramatic fashion. The final stage of this year's edition of Sing! China, which aired at the end of October on Zhejiang Satellite TV, saw Liang's mother and younger brother not only hear her beautiful singing for the first time but also witness Liang winning the event.

"They were smiling at me, and I could tell that they felt proud," Liang recalls.

Sing! China is a singing competition which aims to find new talent, whether professional or amateur. It's a rebranded version of The Voice of China, a show that premiered in 2012, and was based on The Voice of Holland.

This season of the show was immensely popular on the internet, and accumulated views of related topics reached 22.74 billion. The songs performed in the show were ranked on different online music charts more than 1,600 times.

In the final, Liang touched the judges with her heart-stopping performance of the song Piao Xue, or "drifting snow", showing her superb singing skills with each word being powerful and each breath precise.

Her coach, Hong Kong singer Hacken Lee, was thrilled at Liang's triumph, which was announced by the episode's guest star Andy Lau. Lee gave her a thumbs-up before jumping onto the stage to give the new champion a warm, congratulatory hug.

"Lee is a kind person who is particularly rigorous about music," Liang says. "He cares about me, both in regard to my music and my life. He is also good at finding my strengths and helping me to bring out my best."

Born in Guiping, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Liang won the "campus top 10 singers" competition when she was studying at Jiujiang senior middle school in Foshan, Guangdong province. In 2019, she started singing in a bar in Chongqing after graduation from Guangxi Arts University, where she majored in pop music performance.

This year is not the first time that Liang has taken part in the show. In 2019, Liang signed up but didn't make it to the final selection round. "I have been continuously improving my singing since that elimination," Liang explains.

Even though her last two demo tapes, submitted in 2020 and last year, were not selected by the directing team, she never gave up. This summer, she finally made it to the ultimate stage.

Her stunning debut in the blind audition phase gained her votes from all four coaches, becoming one of only two performers to win that honor, the other being Cai Ziyi who was runner-up in the final.

During the competition, Liang dealt with setbacks, including the catastrophic loss of her voice before one round due to a cold. However, she never thought of withdrawing, and Lee always encouraged her, boosting her confidence.

"He would ask my interpretation of the song first, and then tell me to draw the audience into my story by the second line of the song," she says.

Liang says that participating in the show has brought great changes to her life, including the development of a more disciplined lifestyle and a more resilient mentality.

"I feel more relaxed when facing different stages and audiences," she says.

As a witness to her growth throughout the competition, Jin Lei, general director of the show, was moved by Liang's performance in the final.

"At the blind audition stage, she was a girl who was good at singing, while in the final, she had become a strong singer. The sincerity in her final performance was quite moving," Jin says.

Jin is also impressed by Lee's ability to sing and his willingness to help his contestants, including Liang. "He would stay hours in the recording studio to adjust the singing of every single word," Jin says.

Four coaches critiquing the singers' performances and guiding their teams of selected singers is a particular highlight of the show.

Three singing coaches from the previous season, Li Ronghao, Lee from Hong Kong and Liao Changyong, are still coaching together with a new addition to the show, Malaysian singer Fish Leong. Hong Kong pop singer Coco Lee took the baton from Liao in the middle of the competition due to Liao's heavy workload as the president of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Jin says that this year's coaching team was a diverse one, and that each coach has their own specialty in Chinese music.

According to Jin, Liao, a renowned baritone with his academic background in vocal music, has his own understanding of each voice, and he uses his unique system of singing to teach his team.

Contemporary expression

"We value the contemporary nature of the coaches. They should still be active in the process of creating new songs," Jin says. "Another important aspect we value is that they are willing to help the younger generation by sharing their experience and knowledge with the contestants."

Even though the coaches only had four months with the performers, Jin says the whole production team was pleased to see their huge improvement. "That's why we used to host our final at the Bird's Nest or the Shanghai Stadium, as we want the contestants to perform with tens of thousands in the audience," he says.

Two youth coaches, Xilinnayi Gao and Huang Xiaoyun, both 24, who participated in previous seasons and are now established pop singers, also returned to the show. They have a chance to "save" an artist they like who has failed to sway the coaches.

According to Jin, 95 percent of this season's contestants were born after 1995. "People of the younger generation have their own aesthetics, concepts, attitudes and values, and the youth coaches can be closer to understanding their mindset, as well as being able to offer advice and even contradict the four coaches," he says.

Jin has a team of around 30 producers and directors who seek out musical talent from all over the country, whether they come from professional academies or are prominent on social platforms. They follow the growth in potential of the performers and invite them to join the show when they think they are ready.

"We encourage the performers to bring their own characteristics to the stage for selection by the coaches, even though they are not perfect," Jin says.

For Jin, each new season is like a new show to him. "Each year, the young contestants are different, and the coaches have different attitudes to music, and we will make some slight changes to the competition, without disrupting its core values," he says, explaining that the immutable feature for the show is the blind audition that is fair to all performers.

As the audience can have access to all of the world's best and most popular songs through the internet, the variety of music styles is bringing freshness to the show.

In Jin's mind, the show can continue as long as it can be a spiritual home for young people.

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