When I’m a Singer first debuted on South Korea’s Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation in 2011 it quickly became the biggest primetime TV show in the country. The reality singing competition features seven professional singers who compete for a second chance to become a star.
The South Korean show was so popular it even became a big hit in China (many were able to watch it on video-sharing platforms like Tudou and Youku). In fact, it made it into the top searches on Baidu, the country’s dominant search engine. It also turned singer Im Jae-Bum, 50, into a Chinese household name.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that Hunan Satellite TV, one of the most savvy television stations in China (see WiC38), took heed. The network bought the rights to I’m a Singer two years ago and now the Chinese version, which shares the same name as the South Korean original, has dominated primetime ratings since its debut in mid-January.
“We actually discovered and bought the rights to I’m a Singer as early as 2011,” the director of the show Hong Tao told China Business. “But it was difficult to execute the whole concept because in South Korea most of the singers are pop-idols so the true vocalists were often marginalised. However, China doesn’t have that problem. Every type of singer has a niche. So it took us a long time before we decided to put the show to work.”
Critics now reckon the reality show could easily top Zhejiang Satellite TV’s hit last year The Voice of China (see WiC162).
How it works is that the show features seven contestants – all professional singers whose stardom may have faded over the years – fighting for another chance on national television. Every two weeks a live audience of 500 people will cast their vote and the one with the least votes will be eliminated. The show then replaces the eliminated singer with another contestant. The season, which is in its seventh round this week, will end in five weeks. The longer they stay in the show, the more money they earn from Hunan Satellite TV.
So why is it so popular? Fans of the show say they are moved by the dogged determination of the former singers and the behind-the-scenes montages that demonstrate just how hard they work for the few minutes on stage. The show also appealed to older viewers who were already familiar with the contestants, which makes them easier to root for.
“They (the contestants) have such poise and determination and motivation. They are not afraid of being eliminated and all they want is a chance to perform and entertain. It’s a welcome addition to the kind of thing you see on television these days,” is another comment on Sina Weibo.
But the real genius of the programme, critics say, is in making the seemingly powerful appear vulnerable. Even though all the contestants are professional singers, they are rarely put on a stage competing against one another. And behind-the-scene montages also reveal their pre-routine jitters. That’s reality TV at its best.
In the Chinese version of I’m a Singer, the seven contestants hail from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. More famous names include Qi Qin from Taiwan, Paul Wong, most popularly known as the guitarist from the Hong Kong rock band Beyond (though Wong was quickly eliminated). Sha Baoliang, Shang Wenjie, and the former members of the pop duet Yu Quan were also some of the big names on the show.
But the biggest breakout star of the show so far is 44 year-old Chinese singer Huang Qishan. She quickly became the fans’ favourite after her performance of the song Can’t Leave You. During a backstage interview, Huang says the song perfectly describes her connection to music: even though she was never very successful in the industry – she first entered the music business 27 years ago but has only released two albums – she’s not ready to give up yet.
Her performance moved audiences to tears and won the admiration of many singers on weibo as well. In the next round, she paid tribute to Whitney Houston by singing I will Always Love You, and became the champion of the week. Her name also became a hot search term on Baidu overnight after the show.
Taiwan’s Terry Lin is also enjoying a very successful run so far. With his quiet and low-key charisma he has frequently been in the top three in the last two weeks. According to Taiwan’s Apple Daily, since the show Lin has become so popular that his appearance fee back home has “gone up exponentially”. Similarly, Qi Qin also doubled his appearance fee after he went on the show.
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