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Seeking model fusion kids

EIGHT-YEAR-OLD Matthew Beaman, with an American father and Chinese mother, has been one of the most appealing fusion kid models in the city since 2004, when he was only three years old.

Seven-year-old American Gillian Rexach, with a Caucasian mom and dad, speaks fluent Chinese and has lived here for more than six years. She's known as the super-cute blond dancing kid in the finale of the World Expo opening ceremony.

Seven-year-old Pei Renxuan, a local Shanghainese, won the most applause when he made a sudden hip-hop splash on Expo's German Pavilion Day, outshining experienced German and Chinese dancers.

"People like the pleasing mixture of unexpected or uncommon elements. You have a cute Chinese kid doing acrobatics or circus acts, that's nothing because it's expected. You have one dancing Latin or hip-hop, that's something," says Amy Chen, 32, customer relations manager for a local advertising firm specializing in baby products.

"For similar reasons, Chinese moms love seeing Western kids who speak Chinese or look Oriental," she tells Shanghai Daily. "So cute Western and fusion babies are really appealing to baby product brands that want to market here."

The appeal is evident in the case of Matthew Beaman and Amy (no relation to Amy Chen), a popular 2 1/2-year-old fusion kid model for the TV advertisements of Similac baby formula. Amy's father declines to give out the family name.

The two East-West adorables come from the same talent agency, organized by Beaman's 43-year-old Chinese American mother Rose Zhang.

Zhang started contacting and receiving inquiries from advertising companies, baby product brands, photographers and agents since she accompanied Beaman for his first advertising shoot in 2004.

Recognizing the demand for little Western and fusion models in Shanghai, Zhang started the agency for these children last year and has built a database of more than 400 kids, mostly from Shanghai and nearby cities.

There is no professional agency in Shanghai specializing in kid models, she says (and Shanghai Daily couldn't find one).

"The demand is large. We usually have three to four shooting sessions for various companies each week," she says, adding that more than half of the 400 kids have been cast for various kinds of products.

She says her son Matthew usually gets 1,000-2,000 yuan (US$146-292) for a four-hour clothing catalogue shoot. He has access to his money and learns how to spend it carefully.

The demand comes from both Chinese and overseas advertisers and both are increasing, says advertiser Chen.

For a long time, international brands have been coming to the city to shoot their promotion materials, due to relatively lower costs here.

Chen's company works as the local assistant to big-name companies and says they usually want Western or fusion babies with a Western look as they use the photos to market in the West.

Since she started last February, Zhang and children talent in her agency have done projects with big international names like Disney, Snoopy, Les Enphants, adidas, among many more.

Clothing brand

Chinese brands from all over the country also want Western-looking kids so their brands look more international. One children's clothing brand from Zhejiang Province continued to use Beaman as their model and even applied his size as their standard for five years. Beaman, who looks Western with an Oriental touch, has done countless photos, shows and videos for both domestic and international baby products in the past six years.

"Big companies for baby products have been increasing their marketing budget and focus on China and that is reflected in increasing demand for fusion kids," says advertiser Chen.

"Depending on your perspective, these cute angels could either look like a pretty Chinese kid with more distinct features or a Western child with an Oriental feeling. They are appealing either way," she says.

Talent agent Zhang concurs.

"At first the requests were overwhelmingly for Western children or fusions who basically look Western," Zhang recalls, "but now there's increasing interest in fusion children who look more Asian."

Zhang considers it a great experience for the children.

"Most of the parents who apply to my agency don't really care about the money. They are willing to do it as long as the kids love it," she says. "Child models become more outgoing and confident, a big plus whatever they do in the future."Latino 'Prince' - Pei Renxuan

The soon-to-be seven-year-old Pei Renxuan won second prize in a TV reality competition for kids this January with the Latin moves he has learned since he was two and newly picked-up hip-hop beats.

He is cute, of course, and quite talkative and logical for his age. He asks his parents to leave him alone for this interview and answers all questions in a mature and energetic way.

"I just love dancing. I don't know why but I can't stop," Pei says and adds that he has been hooked since he was two years old.

Pei recently caught the attention of the Berlin Hip-Hop Headquarter when they visited his weekend dance school and happened to see him dancing.

He was asked to dance in front of German President Horst Koehler - just two days before the show. Pei learned the dance the day before, rehearsed a few times and amazed the German delegation, and everyone else.

He is now practicing hard for an upcoming Latin dance competition in Singapore and his parents urge him to have a good time and not worry about winning.

(Contributed by Li Anlan)Top: Pei Renxuan sings at a TV reality show.

Above: Pei Renxuan poses with the second-prize medal from the competition.

Little Phoenix - Gillian Rexach

Gillian Rexach, born in Australia, has lived in China shortly after her birth. Her Chinese name is Li Xiaofeng, meaning Little Phoenix.

She speaks fluent Mandarin and Shanghainese and follows local customs. She has learned traditional Chinese dance and ballet. The only Caucasian child in the Little Companion Art Troupe, she's just like everyone - except she looks like a blond Barbie.

At the Expo opening ceremony, she was one of five children representing different colors and ethnicities.

"I have a lot of fun. Since I learned Chinese dance, it's been incredible."

Gillian Rexach is instructed by teachers of Little Companion Art Troupe.Super Model - Matthew BeamanHis Chinese name is Zhang Hansheng (meaning prosperous Han) - it's also easy for his American father to pronounce since it sounds like handsome.

Mother Rose Zhang calls Matthew Beaman a "very good boy," who uses his earnings to buy her flowers every week.

She still remembers his first job in 2004, when they just moved back from California. She happened upon an online posting from a trading company, seeking a foreign child model. She e-mailed Matthew's pictures and was surprised to get a casting call two days later, even suspecting a scam. The whole family, parents, Matthew and his older sister, went along and found tons of toys around a swimming pool. He had a blast and his career took off.

"He is more confident and outgoing than other kids of his age," says Zhang. "We don't plan a career for him, it's enough as long as he's happy. The experience has been positive."


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