Mainland China, encouraged by the success of such stars as Dao Lang, Sun Nan, Natasha Na, and Han Hong began to hold major singing competitions in the hopes of contributing more singers to Mandopop. One of these contests was called My Show. The winner of the contest in 2004 was Jason Zhang from Chengdu. He released an album in 2005 and then took part in a bigger competition called Super Boy in 2007 in which he finished in 4th spot. Jason enjoyed his first number one hit in 2010. Another finalist in the My Show competition was Shanghai native Jacky Xue. He enjoyed two number one hits. Another Shanghainese, Kym, became famous from her duets with Singapore’s JJ Lin.
The most prominent singing competition for the women, which became the most popular televised singing contest, was Super Girl. The winner of the first competition in 2004 was Angela An. She was immediately signed after her win and released an album straight away. In 2006, her “Sing Loudly” topped the charts.
The following year, Super Girl was so popular that the final show attracted 400 million viewers, more than the Chinese New Year Gala earlier that year. The top four finalists were all offered recording contracts: Chris Li, Bibi Zhou, Jane Zhang, and Angelica He. Oddly, Xu Fei, though finishing 6th in the 2006 competition, became the most famous of the bunch. The guitar-playing Siping native has enjoyed two chart-toppers.
Top Super Girl Finalists
1. Angela An Youqi 安又琪
2. Katy Wang Ti 王媞
3. Baby Zhang Hanyun 张含韵
1. Chris Li Yuchun 李宇春
2. Bibi Zhou Bichang 周笔畅
3. Jane Zhang Liangying 张靓颖
4. Angelica He Jie 何洁
1. Laure Shang Wenjie 尚雯婕
2. Sitar Tan Weiwei 谭维维
3. Jade Liu Liyang 刘力扬
4. Amoa Ai Mengmeng 艾梦萌
5. Li Na 厉娜
6. Xu Fei 许飞
(The contest took a three-year hiatus.)
1. Jiang Yingrong 江映蓉
2. Michelle Li Xiaoyun 李霄云
3. Huang Ying 黄英
4. Yisa Yu Kewei 郁可唯
5. Sara Liu Xijun 刘惜君
But not all singers arose through singing competitions; some did it the old fashioned way through being discovered by record company agents. Milk @ Coffee; Wang Feng from Beijing; Wang Zheng from Xi’an; Jacky Zheng and Fandy, both from Yangjiang, Guangdong; Vae (Xu Song) from Hefei, Anhui; all released debut albums in the middle of the decade. Chengdu-native Zhang Li Yin, arguably the best Chinese vocalist since Coco Lee, grew up in Korea and became a bigger name there than in China. Xian Zi was discovered by a Taiwanese producer, performed a duet with Will Pan. She received a Golden Melody Awards nomination, a rarity for singers from the PRC. Of all the acts from the PRC, besides the Super Girls, however, the one that scaled the heights of superstars was the duo called Phoenix Legend.
Chinese Name: 李宇春
Mandarin Name: Lǐ Yǔchūn
(b. 1984 in Chengdu, Sichuan, China)
Give Me Five
冬天快乐 “Happy Winter”
Chris was born into a poor family in Chengdu. Her father served as a railway policeman and her mother as a housewife. They encouraged her to become a doctor. But just prior to her university entrance exams, she announced she wanted to attend a music conservatory. Initially shocked by her request, her parents acquiesced and got her a music tutor thinking that the chances of her getting into a music school were remote anyway. After only one month of training, though, Chris passed her music audition and was offered an admission to Sichuan Music Conservatory. At Li’s high school graduation, she performed a concert in front of her peers.
In 2005, while still attending the conservatory, Li auditioned for the Super Girl singing competition and won the qualifying round in Chengdu. Then she went on to win the nationwide contest to which 120,000 young women had applied. The final episode of the show drew the largest audience in Chinese TV history. Her win came as a surprise to many as her unorthodox stage presence shattered many stereotypes people held about Chinese female singers. A deep, aggressive voice, an androgynous look, no makeup beneath a David Bowie haircut, a natural performer, dressed in loose jeans and a black button-down shirt, with all the right moves, she dazzled the nation with her originality.
She was immediately offered a recording contract and released her first single, “Sweetheart, I Love You”. Her debut album in 2006, The Queen and the Dreams presold 100,000 copies and more than 430,000 in the first month.
Chris Li is active in charity work, especially with the Chinese Red Cross Foundation helping children with leukemia. She auctioned off her costumes worn in the Super Girl finale to help raise money and has donated some of the money raised in her concerts.
Chinese Name: 周笔畅
Mandarin Name: Zhōu Bǐchàng
(b. 1985 in Changsha, Hunan, China)
Bibi’s father was a government worker and her mother was a music teacher. When she was young, her grandmother taught her to play the piano. At age 6, her family relocated to Shenzhen, a city near Hong Kong. While in high school, Zhou got into Chinese pop music and began singing. With high scores on her university entrance exams, she was accepted in 2002 into the four-year undergraduate program in non-classical music at the prestigious Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou. She released a single on the web called “How I Miss You” which achieved limited popularity. She also entered a number of singing competitions and won a few awards. But feeling she was going nowhere with her tomboyish hip hop style that was out of whack with a bubble-gum pop dominated industry, she retreated into her studies. This was soon to change, however, quite by accident.
One of Bibi’s classmates secretly entered her into the 2005 Super Girl auditions in Guangzhou. Bibi, not very confident about the outcome, dragged herself out of bed without putting on any makeup, and threw on her father’s old oversized jacket. Her masculine attire almost made the security guard stop her at the entrance because the contest was for girls only.
Despite her unkempt appearance, Bibi sailed through the audition, her sultry, powerful voice greatly impressing the judges. She coasted through the subsequent elimination rounds and soon found herself among the top 10 finalists in Guangzhou. On one occasion, she brought one of the judges to tears. When she finished the song, the judges gave her a standing ovation. She topped the competition in Guangzhou. Now it was on to the national finals.
Luck was on her side as the finals were held in her hometown of Changsha. Here, the top three contestants from each of the five regions competed. On 26 August 2005, 400 million people across the country tuned in to watch the final. Bibi Zhou came in second place right behind Chris Li.
She was humble in the spotlight however and retired back to school to finish off her degree. The following year, she signed a recording contract with a Beijing-based record label and began taking violin lessons. Her first single, “Swan” (天鹅) came as a surprise because, as a rock song, it was a departure from her signature R&B style. Nevertheless, it topped the charts.
In August 2006, Zhou released her first album, Who Touched My Violin Strings. Many contemporary Chinese musicians and singers composed songs for the album including David Tao and Gigi Leung. One of the songs became another number one hit for her: “Number”. A third number one hit was a song Bibi composed herself called “I’m Left with Only One”.
The following year, Bibi went to continue her vocal training in The United States. At the end of the year she simultaneously released two new albums, Now and Wow, the former containing songs sung in her signature R&B and pop style and the latter, songs of various wide-ranging genres: rock, blues, Brit rock, and big band. Bibi has collaborated a lot with singer-songwriter Wang Zheng.
Chinese Name: 张靓颖
Mandarin Name: Zhang Liang Ying
(b. 1984 in Chengdu, Sichuan, China)
Jane had a tough family life. Her parents divorced when she was 13 and, two years later, her father died. She was compelled to work while attending school to support herself and her mother. She began singing in a local pub, accompanied by her uncle. She fell in love with western music and skipped out on lunch to save up enough to buy cassettes of such singers as Mariah Carey.
In 2005, Jane entered the Chengdu preliminaries of the Super Girl Contest. She did well enough to enter the national competition. The contestants were judged not only by their singing, but their dancing, and overall performance delivery skills. Jane received the highest reviews from critics and professional musicians. She finished in the top 3 and got a recording contract.
After releasing a successful six-track EP, she traveled to the United States to begin work on her debut album. She worked with music producers Craig Williams and the prestigious Peter Hyams who produced for Celine Dion and R. Kelly. Jane’s debut album, The One, was released in 2006 and contains three English songs. She sang the theme song (“Only For Love”) for the big Chinese movie, The Banquet, starring Zhang Ziyi. Jane Zhang was awarded Best Singer at the 2007 Music Chart Awards Ceremony held in Beijing. That year she released her second album, Update. For the Oprah Winfrey special “The World’s Got Talent”, in the United States, Jane Zhang was the only singer from East Asia invited to perform. Jane has up to now scored four number one hits.
Chinese Name: 薛之谦
Mandarin Name: Xuē Zhī Qiān
(b. 1983 in Shanghai, China)
认真的雪 “Attentive Snow”
深深爱过你 “Deeply in Love with You”
Little information exists on the web about Jacky. But one thing is for sure: prior to his appearance, China’s biggest city had failed to contribute a single major pop star to the world of Chinese music besides Anson Hu. Other singers from Shanghai who appeared were Isabelle Huang and Kym. Shanghai native Jacky Xue appeared on the Mainland’s first televised singing competition My Show before the hugely popular Super Girl took off. His unique voice, ability to compose music, and his skilled dance moves helped him win champion standing. He abandoned his pursuit of a career in hotel management which he’d studied in Switzerland and signed a record deal with the prestigious Sony BMG. His debut, self-titled album was released in 2006. The single “Attentive Snow” became a number one hit in China and remained at the top of the charts for five straight weeks. Japanese music legend Shinji Tanimura, was so impressed with Jacky’s music, that he invited him to the Osaka Music Festival
Two years later, Jacky released his second album Deeply In Love With You. Its title-track became his second number one hit. Xue recorded two versions of the song: a classical style and a modern arrangement. He held a concert in Shanghai and a DVD was released shortly thereafter.
Band Type: Singing Duo
Chinese Name: 凤凰传奇
Mandarin Name: Fenghuang Chuanqi
Female vocalist Ling Hua (玲花) from Inner Mongolia
Male rapper Zeng Yi (曾毅) from Hunan
月亮之上 “On the Moon”
Ling Hua who sings in both Mandarin Chinese and Mongolian teamed up with male rapper Zeng Yi. The result is a unique combination of traditional Mongolian chants and modern rap beats. The duo released their first album in 2005 but it wasn’t until they appeared on a TV show called Star Boulevard and performed “On the Moon” that they became extremely popular. Their songs are now frequently played in China and the duo has churned out several more hits. Phoenix Legend has become the most downloaded act on Baidu, beating out superstars Jay Zhou and S.H.E.