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Talent show with a twist

By Fei Lai and Xie Fangyuan (Shanghai Daily)

09:42, September 28, 2012

(The judges of "The Voice of China" are (from left) Harlem Yu, Na Ying, Liu Huan and Yang Kun/Shanghai Daily)

A new singing talent show is making it big by focusing blind auditions and judges as mentors, not vicious critics. "The Voice of China" final will be aired Sunday night, Fei Lai and Xie Fangyuan report.

There used to be a glut of silly, trashy singing, dating and reality TV shows in China, but early this year the government cracked down and limited the number of entertainment shows, calling for more uplifting programming.

That edict caused a major clean-up and rethink.

There are survivors and popular shows, including "China's Got Talent" based on "Britain's Got Talent." The copyright was purchased and producers follow the format while adapting it to local tastes. It has been criticized for silly, even grotesque grassroots acts, lack of real talent and sob stories. But it's not vulgar.

A newcomer and the highest-rated talent show is "The Voice of China," a new kind of singing talent and reality show, based on another foreign format "The Voice of Holland." Again, the copyright was purchased, in a three-year contract, and the style and format strictly followed, based on a thick manual that describes the four judges' chairs and prescribes black suits for the judges, all famous singers with lots of personality. Foreign representatives monitor the show.

It premiered on July 13 and the live final with four contestants is Sunday night on Zhejiang Satellite Television. Elimination rounds will be held tonight and tomorrow. The winner gets a recording contract and a highly publicized concert. One concert has already been held for finalists.

There's a lot of Internet buzz about the show.

It is the top-rated music reality TV show in China, primarily because of its "blind auditions" that appear to ensure fairness in a music scene where judges are often swayed by factors beside talent. For many shows, viewers believe the fix is in.

In "The Voice of China," four judges sit facing the audience with their backs to the singers on an elevated stage. There were six blind auditions.

Judges deliver friendly, witty critiques of the singers, but there's no slashing criticism, no vulgarity, no self-aggrandizement. There's plenty of banter and entertainment but nothing outrageous or flirtatious.

Scouting talent

At first each judge selected 14 singers for their own teams, which they coached and mentored. They vied with each other for talented singers, even arguing in spirited exchanges that reveal their own personalities. When two or more judges wanted a contestant for his or her team, then the contestant decided. Of course, it's a thrill to have famous singers compete for one's heart.

Then they went on to mentor their teams. These sessions were recorded and focused on the interaction between coach and student. Then there were elimination rounds.

"Blind listening demonstrates 'The Voice's pursuit of music par excellence," says Song Ke, the managing director of Heng Da Music Co and an observer of the entertainment industry. He used to be a judge on super popular "Super Girls," which began in 2004 on Hunan Satellite TV and was a monster nationwide hit. In 2011, authorities canceled it, saying it was "too long."

The show has other things going for it: Popular judges-coaches with charisma who share their own stories, contestants' touching stories (sometimes exaggerated), closely followed mentoring interaction, and a slick, professional format and strong production team.

The judges are big-name singers Na Ying and Liu Huan; a star popular with young people Harlem Yu; and a star who came from the grassroots, Yang Kun. "Their participation guarantees success, even before it starts," says Lu Wei, the public relations director of "Voice of China."

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