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China's got talent vs tear jerkers

CHINA'S Got Talent" was billed as a much-anticipated "real" talent show - not a mere copy of the Western "Got Talent" franchise, it would be Chinese - but it definitely would showcase genuine grassroots talent.

That's what China's much-hyped talent show was supposed to be - and it turned out to be the most popular show on television. It was the first time China purchased a foreign star-making TV franchise.

Tears trumped talent.

It was dominated by a lot of strange acts or stunts, not class acts. We can probably expect the same tear-jerkers and performers with disabilities in Season Two, though insiders say they may tweak it a bit on the talent side.

Some observers were disappointed that the show seemed less about genuine talent, than touching stories.

One viewer, an accountant in his 30s, expressed dismay at the show.

"We hope one day China's best talents can really compete with foreign talents with their unparalleled act instead of pathetic personal stories," said Qiu Zhonglin. "We don't need another version of the mainstream 'Touching China' that just selects touching figures and groups."

Supporters called the show honest, heartwarming and thought-provoking, quite unlike the typically vulgar star-making shows that have been banned from China's prime-time TV.

"Sincerity makes the difference," said director Jin Lei, a veteran who directed the 2007 TV hit "My Hero."

"We didn't use excessive lighting or sentimental music to stir up viewers' emotions," he said. "The contestants rather than the celebrities or TV anchors become the protagonists. These ordinary people tell their own stories with real talent and unique personalities."

In fact, it appears that the key to success in China is sentiment. Those involved in the show said many super-talented people were eliminated because they didn't have "stories."

Virtually many acts that made it to TV were performed by ordinary folks with extraordinary stories - one female judge seemed to cry all the time and the theater audience and TV audience were often in tears. Some acts were truly inspiring, some just carnival corny and bizarre.

Take the winner in Sunday's final in Shanghai Stadium: 23-year-old armless piano player Liu Wei from Beijing who played with his toes. He lost his arms from a powerful electrical burn when he was a child, playing hide and seek.

Second prize went to a 7-year-old stand-up comedian Zhang Fengxi who was likened to Shanghai's famous stand-up funny guy Zhou Libo.

Third prize went to a significantly overweight 23-year-old student Cai Xiuqing who took off her high-heel shoes and trilled to the audience's delight.

Earlier highlights included the woman who sang while supporting three men on her back and the woman who held two bicycles with her teeth. There was the enormous, introverted fat guy Zhu Xiaoming who sang sweetly. And the migrant workers who formed a hip-hop group - now they were actually cool.

We cannot forget the poor "duck neck" couple in Shanghai who sell savory duck necks on the street. He sang horribly. She sang like a pop star. Their parents opposed their marriage. They left their hometown and suffered great hardship, but love endured. The woman always dreamed of singing on stage. The audience was so moved that the couple now has a nice low-rent stall.

And there was the mechanic called "Peacock Brother" who did an absurd dance with peacock feathers because he wanted to make his paralyzed wife smile.

One thing for sure: There weren't too many of the star-struck young people who simply wanted to get famous.

For years talent-making shows have been tacky and vulgar, so much so that authorities banned live performances, prime-time shows and lucrative cell-phone SMS voting.

But the restrictions were lifted for the "China's Got Talent" final last Sunday.

Since its debut in May, the final rounds generated an average viewership rating of about 20 percent. The final had a rating of 34.88, the highest of any local program at the time. It even replaced China Central Television's annual Lunar New Year's Eve Gala as the most watched TV program in Shanghai.

Veteran TV producer Li Tian is optimistic about the future of Chinese talent shows, saying "China's Got Talent" is just the beginning of "an array of honest and thought-provoking productions." He cited its "zero psychological distance with the audience" and predicted that more domestic TV channels will buy foreign franchises and benefit from overseas expertise.

He expressed concern over producers' drive to make a quick buck and promise instant fame to contestants.

"They should develop shows into long-term brands and help finalists with career planing according to their talent and personalities," Li said.

He suggested that Chinese franchises could adapt hit shows like "Project Runway" and "Hell's Kitchen."

As plans are underway for the next "China's Got Talent," fans and TV professionals generally express hope that the sincerity and best ideas of the first season will be retained, while talent will triumph and trump the tears. Grassroots stars who made it

Ma Tianyu

The heartthrob who ranked sixth in the 2006 "My Hero" competition was considered the most popular contestant of the entire season.

Ma's mother died when he was five and his father deserted the family when he was a boy. Before entering the singing competition, he worked odd jobs, washed cars, waited tables and helped in kitchens.

The talent show improved his skills and confidence and he later was admitted to the Beijing Film Academy. He has released several albums and starred in some films and TV dramas. He is one of the few talent show finalists who is still active in show business.

Zeng Yike

Zeng was one of the most controversial finalists in last year's "Happy Girls" singing contest. She was dubbed "Queen of Out-of-key Singing" because of her trembling vocals that sounded like a sheep baaing. Many thought her "gentle" singing was dreadful.

However, when she was eliminated, famous Chinese mainland musician Gao Xiaosong comforted and supported her, saying "Go home and get a good rest. Next week you start work on your album."

Gao helped her release her first original album "Forever Road," which is selling well. Her style is clear and easy to follow and her music aspirations touched many people.


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