Chinese fear skein spreads pop culture

BEIJING — Last week’s finale of China’s own “Pop Idol” clone has rattled local media mandarins, already pulling back from recent attempts to open up the vast country of 1.3 billion to Western companies.

“Super Girl” fever has swept China since its March bow, becoming the TV event of the year.

The three-hour Friday night finale is reported to have pulled in more eyeballs than giant state broadcaster CCTV’s annual Spring Festival Eve gala, a politically correct variety show that regularly tops the ratings with an incredible 400 million viewers. Compare that to the 48 million who tuned into the final slice of “American Idol” last year.

Significantly, “Super Girl” was not made by CCTV, which calls the show “vulgar, boorish and lacking in social responsibility.” Hunan Satellite Television, a private company in China’s heartland, produces the show.

Worryingly for China’s staid bureaucracy, the skein brought democracy to 8 million youngsters who paid 2¢ to vote for their choice of winner by cell phone text message.

Indeed, packs of girls patrolled shopping precincts pestering passers-by to send text messages backing one or other contestant.

The “Mongolian Cow Yogurt Super Girl Contest,” to give the skein its full name, is a major departure from centrally planned programming showing military marches or farming specials.

Neither Hunan nor producer/show judge Xia Qing will reveal the show’s genesis, although Xia does admit to being inspired by “American Idol.”

But the similarities are striking.

Some 120,000 women aged 16 and above from Hunan, Sichuan, Guangdong, Henan and Zhejiang provinces auditioned to appear on the show, singing a song of their choice. That’s more than double the 50,000 who auditioned for the first season of the show last year.

Finalists bounced between Avril Lavigne-style misery to punky Cranberries numbers to schmaltzy ballads. Costumes ran from sexy schoolgirl to ballerina babe.

Ultimately, more than 3.52 million people voted for the unusually tall Li Yuchun, 21, a shaggy-haired Sichuan native who barely beat 20-year-old Zhou Bichang, who got more than 3.2 million votes.

Li wins contracts for TV work and the chance to become a singing star.

Ironically, critics seem miffed that the country’s youth wasted their time watching the show — and that they voted for the woman who, it’s widely agreed, had “transgender appeal” but not the strongest voice.

Meanwhile, CCTV, which claims 1 billion viewers, is miffed because the cost of a 15-second ad during the show is nearly 120,000 Yuan ($15,000), topping its most expensive primetime rates.

Technically, CCTV can veto a third edish of “Super Girl,” since it holds a monopoly on broadcast decisions, and Chinese authorities may encourage it to take that line, worried about further exposure of pop youth culture and overtones of democracy.

In the meantime, a nationwide “Super Girl” concert tour is skedded to kick off Oct. 1 in Chengdu, in Sichuang province. Finalists will tour 10 cities, including those that held regional contests. The last leg may land in Hong Kong.

“Super Girl” hosts Li Xiang and Wang Han have been invited to preside over the shows.

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