Going for a song

Hong Kong star discounts her fee to build fanbase via mainland TV show

Deng Ziqi w

Deng: Hong Kong singer ditched Cantonese to appeal to mainland fans

Until last year Taiwanese balladeer Terry Lin’s career was going nowhere. Lin, 47, was known as an accomplished vocalist from the duo Ukulele. But his stardom peaked over a decade ago and his last few albums received little media coverage.

Everything changed when Lin appeared on Hunan Satellite TV’s hit I’m A Singer. Lin, who came second in the competition overall, has now launched a concert tour around China and is working on his new album.

The show, based on an adaptation of a South Korean reality series, has resuscitated the careers of other singers too (see WiC183). The format features seven contestants – all professional singers now lacking the limelight – who fight for another chance at celebrity on national television. Every two weeks a live audience of 500 people casts a vote and the contestant with the least support is eliminated. The season, which is in its fourth round this week, will end in early March.

The first series of I’m A Singer featured a bevy of little-known performers long past their prime. But this time round there are more familiar faces. For instance, there’s Wei Wei, an established singer who is best known for singing ethnic songs (including one at the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics). There’s also Han Lei, another former idol who has often appeared on CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala.

Why would these bigger stars agree to compete? Hunan TV is reckoned to pay generously. The singers are paid by the episode, so the longer they stay in the show, the more they earn too. Last year Qi Qing reportedly made Rmb210,000 ($34,694) per episode, says Tencent Entertainment.

Of course, the stars also get a huge publicity boost, which is probably worth more than their weekly fee. Wei Wei, who returned to the stage after a lengthy hiatus, is clearly keen on drumming up interest in a wider comeback. (And it’s hard to imagine that she will be eliminated this week, after informing the media she’s going to sing “The Sun Is Most Red and Chairman Mao Is Our Most Beloved”).

But Wei will face some serious competition from Hong Kong singer Deng Ziqi (who also goes by the name G.E.M.). Well known in Hong Kong, Deng performs mostly in Cantonese (a dialect spoken in the former colony and much of Guangdong province but which the bulk of viewers on the mainland can’t understand). The Apple Daily says Deng had to plead to get on the show too, even telling Hunan TV she’d slash her appearance fee. But her stunning performances – singing in China’s common tongue,  Mandarin – in the first three episodes seems to have changed that. Followers on Deng’s weibo page jumped rapidly to more than 3.4 million once the series began and she’s back in demand, thanks to her sudden popularity on I’m A Singer 2. For companies wanting to book her, the fee is now Rmb400,000, up four times on a few weeks ago, says Oriental Daily. “There are now about a dozen invitations for appearances and endorsements. But I have to concentrate on the show so none of these contracts have materialised,” the singer told reporters.

Hunan TV is hoping that Deng’s story will help it outmanoeuvre other reality shows competing in the same slot on Friday evenings. NetEase, an internet portal, says ratings for CCTV’s Sing My Song, a format that aims to discover local songwriters, has crept ahead of I Am A Singer 2 in the ratings, while Jiangsu Satellite TV’s Super Brain, a science-themed talent contest, was the most discussed of the formats on weibo. (More on the latter show in next week’s issue.)

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