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China's got grassroots talent

A granny who lifts bicycles with her teeth, a fat Susan Boyle-type boy singer and migrant workers performing hip-hop dance are among the popular contestants on "China's Got Talent."

Final rounds of the star-making show involving around 100 performers are underway on Dragon TV.

The first airing on July 25 got a viewership rating of 8 percent, the highest among all local programs at that time. Nationally, it ranked No. 2.

Winners will be decided in the final on September 26 at Shanghai Concert Hall.

Fremantle Media, owner of "Britain's Got Talent" and the international "Got Talent," sold the rights to perform an authentic show in China.

For the final rounds, the jury panel of veteran entertainers is comprised of local stand-up comedian Zhou Libo, Taiwanese singer/actress Annie Yi and Chinese mainland composer Gao Xiaosong.

They chat with contestants and comment - but they're not nasty and cruel like judges on "Britain's Got Talent."

In addition to talent, they consider the contestant's personality and appeal.

"He or she should have a strong power inside and be confident and good enough to turn their stardom dream into reality," says judge Yi.

"Though there's no age or background requirement, those who enter in hopes of quick success and fame may be disappointed."

Thus, the jury eliminated a handsome pop singer who performed a ridiculous "dolphin sound" (an extremely high pitch) to please the audience.

On the other hand, a grassroots hip-hop band of nine migrant workers, as well as a young female singer with dwarfism made it to the next round for their ability and spirit.

Since its launch in May, the authorized Chinese version has attracted hundreds of thousands of people, aged from 4 to 94, from all over the country.

At the final, well-known contestants from "Britain's Got Talent," such as Paul Potts and Susan Boyle, may perform.

In October the "China's Got Talent" champion, as well as the winners of the "Got Talent" series in Britain, the United States and Europe, will stage a show at the Expo Culture Center.

"China's Got Talent," every Sunday, 9:05pm, Dragon TV

Fatso singer

A 20-year-old nicknamed "little fatty," Zhu Xiaoming stunned the audience with his performance of Mariah Carey's "Hero."

Although Zhu has had no professional training, he easily hits the high notes as well as bass notes. His idols include Whitney Houston and Faye Wong, both of whom have powerful, penetrating pop-gospel voices.

"When I listen to their songs, I feel them in my heart," Zhu says. "I believe I can sing their songs well on my own."

A major in computer science at Shanghai Normal University, Zhu has a lot of friends and most are drawn to his singing. But in his childhood he had few friends since he was a fat kid. It was the inspirational songs that dragged him out of his shell and drew people to him.

"I chose 'Hero' because it speaks to my heart and it's also my story," Zhu says. "Everyone has a hero in his heart. We should go deep inside the soul and make dreams come true. From zero to hero."

Zhu admires what ungainly Susan Boyle achieved on "Britain's Got Talent." She shot to stardom overnight with her beautiful voice. Zhu hopes he can perform with her one day.

Tiny singer

A tiny 23-year-old woman with dwarfism sings with a child's voice, a sweet smile and lots of confidence. The audience and jury were impressed by Zhu Jie's performance of "Firefly."

The jury asked if her small stature had a big impact on her life. Zhu said it was not a big deal, except when she hailed a cab.

"The drivers seldom believe I can pay the fare because I look like a little kid," she explained with a chuckle.

Zhu, 1.28 meters tall, is now working for a performance troupe in Beijing. When asked if she has problems finding a boyfriend, Zhu laughed, saying there are a lot of small-stature boys in the troupe.

Her boyfriend from the troupe was present and when judges asked what he loved most about Zhu, he replied, "I love everything about her."

Stunt aunty

It was really tough for Li Hongqin, a 66-year-old woman from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, to lug her 90-kilogram suitcase up the stairs to the Shanghai Concert Hall performance stage.

At the first sight, one would never think she nimbly performs folk art stunts as well as bian lian, lightning-fast mask and costume changing in Chuan (Sichuan) Opera.

To the accompaniment of pop music, Li waves her arms, twists her head and body and whirls around, somehow changing vividly painted masks and costumes again and again. Within two minutes she changed five costumes on stage. That's why her suitcase is so heavy - it contains five sets of costumes.

"I used to be an ordinary housewife feeling empty and bored, trapped in making beds, doing laundry and washing dishes," says Li. "Not until I was 55 did I find my passion, that's when I began to learn the face-changing stunt."

Over the past 10 years, Li has performed hip-hop instead of opera on many entertainment shows. But face-changing is just one of her talents.

In coming rounds she plans to demonstrate more folk stunts, including dancing barefoot on steel needles and lifting two bicycles with her teeth.

"Now my only wish is to promote Chinese folk art stunt to the younger generation," she says.

Hip-hop group

The hip-hop dance group is comprised of 12 migrant workers from Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. Aged from 18 to 26, they include construction workers, security guards and vendors.

Construction worker Ah Feng started the group around a year ago because there was little inexpensive entertainment for migrant workers. Even Internet surfing at a cyber cafe was too costly.

"One day, when I saw an open area near my construction site, I thought I could use it to practice hip-hop dance," he says.

With the help of online video lessons, he started to learn hip-hop on his own. He attracted a lot of spectators and some of them joined him for exercise; gradually a group was formed.

"We usually practice four to five hours a day," Ah Feng says. "We love this kind of dancing because it is about passion, relaxation and unconstrained lifestyle."

All the dancers are thrilled they made it so far in "Got Talent."


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