Popular Chinese TV singing contest Super Girl, which in the past managed to cause quite a stir from simple bamboo-forest villages to the big metropolises, is set to make a return after a ten-year hiatus.


Super Girl is an American Idol-style reality TV show, which overturned the dominance of formulaic television programs of the past whilst also hosting a television extravaganza for the program’s participants, who are for the most part ordinary people who want to sing and experience the charm of television.


In 2005, Super Girl has attracted more than 120,000 young female participants for the preliminary selection stages.


In reviewing the show’s past glory, some critics praised the talent contest for giving grass-roots female singers a platform on which to display their talents; a marked departure from the majority of shows which focused on beauty-queen type contestants.


Music critic Ke'er Qinfu, one of the judges for the Super Girl contest in Chengdu in 2005, pointed out that,

“As a judge in this show, I realized that part of my work was helping young singers grow and shine on this stage in an era when the music industry is not prosperous and new singers haven't had that chance before. This is a stage for them to show their persistency in their pursuit to realize their dreams.”

However, during its kick-off auditions way back when, an especially wide range of applicants met strong criticism from Shi Tongyu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Shi argued,

“(the show’s) live coverage of the start-up audition phase opened an unprecedented exhibition of ugly and odd behaviors from those teenage girls who presented their untrained singing skills in a TV program. In my opinion, most of the applicants possess no talent when it comes to singing or performing. And it is very irresponsible and immoral to broadcast their awkwardness, nervousness and embarrassment through a live TV program. Meanwhile, the audience’s aesthetic values as well as their interest for the arts have been misguided.”

While that may be the case, in a sea of ordinary singing voices, there were still contestants who were ready to stand up and shine. Li Yuchun, also known as Chris Lee, was a music student whose tomboy looks and confidence onstage often became the talk of online chat rooms within China. After winning this nationally televised talent show in 2005, she soon became one of the country's top pop stars.

REASONS BEHIND THE SUCCESS

Li Yuchun received 3.5 million votes from her fans during the show’s final in 2005. Some eight million, mostly young, Chinese viewers were paying 0.1 yuan or 12 cents in US dollars to send a “text message of support” via cell phone for one of the three Super Girl finalists.


Shi Tongyu attributes Li Yuchun and some other girls' success partly due to indirectly giving a voice to individual Chinese viewers through a text message vote. As Shi explains,

“The popularity of Super Girl has relied heavily on the platforms generated by new media, including mobile phones and the Internet. The 2005 Super Girl show that Li Yuchun attended features innovation in the sense that people can choose their idols through sending an SMS message.”

In 2005, Super Girl was a TV phenomenon. The audience ratings for the final reached 11.65% in terms of total share. However, the show was forced off the air in 2006 by authorities with the official reason being that the duration of the show was too long.


The 2016 season of the singing reality show kicked off this past January and according to a press conference held in early May, about 610,000 people registered to enter the contest.

The reason why it is still popular is “Super Girl” has a strong IP in the audiences.


IP is a word frequently used on Chinese Internet. It means Intellectual Property. It would be easier if you understand it as literary property or underlying property.


e.g. The movie Iron Man is a success because of its comics.


e.g. The movie Warcraft has attracted a lot of Chinese audience because of its game was popular in China.

CHANGES

At the start of this year, when the winners of 2005 Super Girl stood on the same stage once again during the 2016 New Year Gala of Hunan Satellite TV, it was announced that Super Girl would be making its long awaited return. The announcement came right before the countdown to Chinese New Year; a bonus for all Super Girl fans. The announcement evoked memories from those who witnessed miracles back in the summer of 2005.


Sixty-six days later, applicants for the new series reached 130,000, and young girls were the ones most interested. 53% of the applicants were born between 1995-2000, and 32% of them were born between 1990-1995.


And aside from a younger pool of contestants, this year the competition is being broadcast live on Mango TV, a video streaming website belonging to Hunan Satellite TV. Some have said that the decision to broadcast via an online platform allowed the production team to get around regulations passed by China’s television watchdog.


Last year the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV restricted the number of reality shows on China’s television channels. As a result, each satellite service is only able to broadcast one reality show per season. Earlier regulations regarding entertainment programs also limited the length of such programs and the broadcasting times available to them.


Aside from Super Girl, in recent years Hunan Satellite TV has produced similar singing contests such as X Factor (Zhong Guo Zui Qiang Yin) and I Am A Singer (Wo Shi Ge Shou), which earned both fame and fortune for the channel and its contestants. Broadcasting a similar singing show on the same channel might have been one too many, and the timing to broadcast such a show making its comeback on television wasn’t exactly perfect given the regulation environment. As a result of these factors, Mango TV became the desired choice by which to deliver the show.

LIVE SHOW ONLINE

Internet live streaming has become popular in the last few years in China. Via a mix of games, singing, dancing and a number of other fields, previously unknown Internet hosts and hostesses have become wildly popular. For the girls who are able to participate in Super Girl, their lives are being documented and streamed 24/7, from the audition stages to their everyday life, right through to the final.

“I couldn't get used to Internet live broadcasting when I lived in the castle for the first week. But that wasn’t a reason to quit and everyone was trying to adapt.”

17-year-old Fang Yuan, who participated in the singing contest and became one of the show’s top 20 singers this season. According to Fang, she had a great time when she finally got familiar with the contestants and her fans.


Live broadcasting is now a main selling point of the show. Fans can watch the show and catch all the behind the scenes footage through live streaming mobile apps. The cameras constantly follow the contestants off-stage, as they live and work together. Being under the microscope isn’t too much of a change for Fang, as she has been on the stage since she was a child. Some of her fellow contestants in the top 20 also have stage experience and some are even stars on the web.

INTERNET CELEBRITY

Among the top 20 Super Girl singers, Wang Jinjin already has 1,855,000 fans on Kuaishou live stream while participating in the singing contest. Huang Xiyuan has over 2 million fans on singing app Changba.Contestants of 2016 Super Girl, a new tomboy style.The total popularities of Super Girl has reached 23,075,996 when the top 21 contestants were announced.

A contestant who identified herself online as “Girl Opens the Door”, posted a critique of the show on Zhihu.com after being eliminated herself. The post read,

“I participated in the Mango TV division of the show. People who have the most popularity win the game. However, popularity means people pay attention to you and give you golden coins. 1 yuan allows you to buy 10 gold coins. If you want popularity, you need money.”

There are 3 divisions online and offline and the top 100 contestants of every division have the right to continue the game. Their ranking depends on their level of popularity; however, many have complained about the contest’s rules. If an Internet star already has fans on other Internet platforms, she is definitely at an advantage when it comes to gaining a higher ranking, regardless of talent.

Among the top 20 Super Girl singers, the stylish singer Wang Jinjin already had over 1.8 million fans on live streaming app Kuaishou prior to attending the contest. Meanwhile, fellow contestant Huang Xiyuan had over 2 million fans on Changba, a mobile app via which people could share Karaoke videos.


Super Girl has attracted a lot of Internet celebrities, but it also creates new Internet stars. Fang Yuan now has nearly 300 thousand fans on her Sina Weibo page. Obviously, the making of a star has shifted from traditional media towards the Internet. Shen Yang, Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, has stated that from the view of making an idol, this change brings us one step closer to the ideal situation.

“In the traditional way of making stars, the interaction only occurs on TV. With the growth of the Internet, fans can know what their idols are doing through live shows. Through direct interactions between fans and these new stars, they can share the feeling of fame.”

Furthermore, Internet celebrities have themselves become an industry in their own right and the influence of Internet stars can convert attention into cash.

MAKING PREDICTIONS

“It is impossible to have a national icon today. China is different from ten years ago. China has now become a consumption society and this consumption is personalized. Ten years ago super girls would catch people’s attention, but today consumers are divided.”

Professor Shen Yang said when commenting on the challenges that traditionally ground breaking shows like Super Girl face in the modern era. Shen predicts that this year’s contest is unlikely to produce a national icon like Li Yuchun.


However, the numbers do prove that Super Girl is still a successful entertainment show, though viewing figures are by no means phenomenal.

In a research report, which focused on the web media reports of entertainment programs in the first half of 2016 produced by CMMR media, Super Girl ranked 7th. Among the top 10 programs listed in the report, only two shows, one of which was Super Girl, were exclusively broadcast online.



According to Baidu.com, Super Girl’s Baidu Search Index began climbing from July and the average broadcast figures for its final shows exceeded 20,000,000.


Entering the final stages, the competition is due to be broadcast every Friday, but the schedule of the competition has not yet been set. Hosts and guests are announced days before the competition and there is a “Coming Soon” tag on the Super Girl’s schedule. This element of uncertainty for both competitors and fans helps generate a sense of togetherness, which in turn helps to cement the idea that fans are closer to their idols than ever before.


In 2016, Li Yuchun released a new album “Ye Man Sheng Zhang (Savagely Growing)”. It has been 11 years since Li Yuchun’s debut on Super Girl and this is the first album produced by her own studio. Like the name of this album, both Li Yuchun and her fellow super girls are growing in unpredictable ways.

Story: Cui Chaoqun, Xu Fei, Stuart Wiggin

Designer: Cui Chaoqun

Web Developer: Qin Lei

Producer: Xu Yang