Last year, Hong Kong singer Deng Ziqi (who goes by the name G.E.M.) became the biggest breakout star on the second season of Hunan Satellite TV’s reality competition I’m A Singer. The show, based on an adaptation of a South Korean reality series, 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. Deng, with a petite frame but a gigantic voice, finished second.
Another Hong Kong singer Leo Ku, however, didn’t enjoy the same fortune as Deng. Ku, one of the contestants on the third season of I’m A Singer, which premiered late last year, exited in the sixth round. His elimination quickly became a topic of contention in Hong Kong, with many arguing that mainland audiences did not appreciate his more subtle performance.
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, for instance, believes the reason Ku was eliminated so early in the competition was because his performance – a rendition of Faye Wong’s Fleeting of Time – was relatively subdued versus those of the mainland Chinese performers on the show. It also argued that compared with Hong Kong, Chinese audiences prefer over-the-top and lung-busting performances. That explains why in the first round of the competition, Singaporean singer Kit Chan, who also delivered a pitch-perfect but otherwise low-key performance, was quickly eliminated.
In response to Ku’s elimination, Chan told Hong Kong Daily News: “I told Leo before, singers like us are not suitable for that kind of competition environment.”
Similarly, one columnist at Sky Post said the reason why Ku was voted off has nothing to do with his singing ability: “He was eliminated not because his singing is not on par. His problem is that he never tried to cater to the taste of mainland audiences by singing songs that have ridiculously high notes and choosing songs that are in Cantonese (as opposed to Mandarin).”
In some ways, the Ku debate in Hong Kong was about more than just a singing contest. In the context of the ongoing tension between the territory’s residents and their mainland Chinese compatriots, it was yet another manifestation of Hongkongers expressing their sense of being different, and their belief they possess more sophisticated tastes.
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