Chao Nu, the abbreviation of Chao Ji Nu Sheng (超级女声 or Super Voice Girls), has entered the Chinese vocabulary. It’s the name of a televised singing competition similar to American Idol, produced and broadcast by the state-owned Hunan Province Satellite Television Station. The program’s full name is Mengniu Yoghurt Super Voice Girls — Mengniu being one of China’s leading dairy product brands.
The TV program has sparked a nationwide mania. According to the August 20 edition of Beijing News, Super Voice Girls has attracted more than 150,000 young female participants while more than 20 million people watch the program every week, comprising more than 10 percent of all TV viewers during the program’s time slot. More than 100 newspapers have written extensive stories about Super Voice Girls; Google returns more than a million results for a search on the program’s Chinese name.
The first season of Super Voice Girls aired in 2004. The final of the second season — in which three finalists fight it out to become the champion Super Voice Girl — will be broadcast this Friday August 26, on Hunan Satellite TV, as well as several local terrestrial channels. The finalists are Zhou Bichang, Zhang Liangying and Li Yuchun.
The 2005 competition started with a primary round involving 10,000 girls, each of whom only had 30 seconds to perform. TV viewers voted by sending SMS messages to the TV station. After the primary round, each program became a knockout competition along familiar reality TV lines.
One of the reasons the program has been so popular is that there were almost no requirements for registration: any female who could sign up, regardless of where they came from, how they look and how they sing. “The low threshold for registration enables more and more girls with dreams to find a stage of their own”, said Wang Ping, the general director of the program. For participants, the most attractive part of Super Voice Girl is that after the competition, the program’s sponsors will invest in the winners, promising them album deals and roles in TV series.
The key players in this mass carnival
Below are the key players who took part in the semi-final competition last week:
On Friday August 19 , most Chinese media gave extensive coverage to Super Voice Girls, with detailed introductions to the five candidates — Zhou Bichang (周笔畅), He Jie (何洁), Zhang Liangying (张靓颖), Li Yuchun (李宇春) and Ji Minjia (纪敏佳). Aside from Zhou Bichang who comes from a town near Guangzhou, all of them are from Sichuan.
Li and Zhou are similar in their boyish images, performance skills and singing styles. They are also both very popular with audiences. Li always performs male vocals and has consistently got the highest numbers of SMS votes. He Jie has stage presence, but her singing performance is average. He Jie has also been said to have already “made a market value for herself of 1 million yuan (USD123,000)”. Zhang Liangying is considered to “sing with her soul” and is good at performing English songs. She also has a beautiful face, sexy figure and feminine personality which is a big plus for her. Ji Minjia has the greatest vocal range, but her lack of stage charisma mades her the least popular amongs the show’s SMS voters.
‘Fan’ is sometimes rendered in Chinese as fen si (粉丝 — Chinese vermicelli). The fan group of each semi-finalist Super Voice Girl competitor were given their own names, with each name related to the word fen si:
Yu Mi (玉米 — corn): Li Yuchun’s fans
Fen Bi (粉笔 — chalk): Zhou Bichang’s fans
Liang Fen (凉粉 — bean jelly): Zhang Liangying’ fans
He Fan (盒饭 — take-out food): He Jie’s fans
Jia Mi: (佳迷 — Ji Minjia addiction) : Ji Minjia’s fans
The fans have been crazily supporting their idols, arguing with each other and slandering their competitors. There have been scandalous stories about the competition’s judges, allegations that Li Yuchun is a lesbian, and enough gossip online to keep Super Voice Girls at the top of Baidu’s most popular search terms for weeks on end.
Words made popular by Super Voice Girls
In order to understand the program better, there are another two terms you need to know:
Hai Xuan (海选): The primary election, i.e. the initial competition involving 10,000 girls.
PK: Player kill, the term used by China’s online game players to mean games where you kill the other players. PK has been used on Super Voice Girls to refer to the knockout part of the show: after a round of singing, the competitor who gets the fewest SMS votes and another one who judges decide has made too many mistakes are sent to the PK Stage (PK台); one is eliminated in a one-to-one competition. In last Friday’s semi-final, Ji Minjia and He Jia were kicked out after two rounds of PK.
The money makers
According to 2005 advertising rates for Hunan Satellite TV, TV commercials during the Super Voice Girl program typically cost 75,000 yuan (USD9,058) for 15 seconds of airtime, while the same airtime during the final hit a record high of 112,500 yuan (USD13,587).
According to Sun Xianhong, vice president of Mengniu Milk Group, the sponsor of Super Voice Girls of this year, Mengniu spent 14 million yuan to get Super Girls’ exclusive naming sponsorship rights, 15 seconds of advertising per program and other promotional opportunities. They think this investment is excellent value for money. Apparently, it increase Mengniu’s brand awareness and raised sales of Mengniu yoghurt by 270 percent.
Another source of revenue for Hunan Satellite TV has been SMS charges. In the Chengdu competition alone, the best three singers received a total of 307,071 message votes, each message costing fans from 0.5 yuan to 3 yuan. According to the 21st Business Herald, income from message charges may account for 30 to 50 percent of the total profits of the TV programme, even after a 15 per cent cut for the telecom suppliers is removed. These figures were later denied by Wang Peng, board chairman of Tianyu Media, which handles the “Super Girls” brand under Hunan Satellite TV: He said that the show’s revenue is mainly from sponsors and advertisements.
- China Daily: Super Voice Girls’ challenges China’s TV culture
- Beijing Review: Lessons From ‘Super Voice Girl’
- The Beijing News (Chinese): Super Voice Girls: a popular culture reaction to elite culture
- Southern Weekend (Chinese): Super Voice Girls: a game played by 100,000 players
- Sohu.com (Chinese): Revealing the profits and business model of Super Voice Girl
Wang Jian Shu says “Super Girl is super hot”
Kelly Chan joins “Super Girl” judges (Shenzhen Daily)
Li Yuchun voted Super Girl (photos from Xinhua)
‘Idol’ TV Show Breaks Records in China (AP)
Image from hz66.com
This article was written by Ben Marcom and Jeremy Goldkorn
This story is cross-posted at Danwei.