CHINA - In less than four minutes, a career can change. A pop superstar may be born. A country can fall in love with a young woman.
The lucky girl would be G.E.M., a Hong Kong singer-songwriter who was virtually unknown outside her home city weeks ago, before she took the stage in Chinese reality hit show I Am A Singer 2 and blew the crowd away with a ferocious performance of Exist, a song by mainland rocker Wang Feng.
"How do I exist?" she bellowed, shifting from restraint to power - from falsetto to crescendo - and drawing a roar of approval from the audience.
Overnight, her popularity exploded, generating a black market in tickets to her concerts in China.
In its first season, the Hunan TV singing contest for singers, featuring famous Taiwanese voices Chyi Chin, Terry Lin and Aska Yang, had underscored China's long-standing affair with Taiwanese balladeers and Taiwan's place in the Chinese pop songbook.
After such a brilliant start, the second season had seemed lacklustre, kicking off with the likes of Malaysian Gary Chaw, the guy who composed Betrayal (as opposed to Yang, the guy who transformed the song into a tear-jerking hit and karaoke favourite). In the first round of the current season, which premiered in China and Singapore on Jan 3, Taiwanese Phil Chang - less impressive as a contestant and more effective as a charming, self-mocking compere - was perhaps the only bright spot.
It took G.E.M.'s star turn in the second round to give the show a flash of romance and excitement. And she seized the momentum, wooing and winning fans in subsequent rounds with a combination of strategy and showmanship.
Exist, a hit in China, was a clever choice for the outsider from Hong Kong to get her foot in the door. And she was shrewd to have turned notably challenging numbers from David Huang's soulful You Got Me Drunk to Mavis Fan's skittish I Want Us Together into showcases for her vocal control.
Six rounds in, she has ensconced herself in the affections of the studio audience, who have ranked her first thrice, above singers who have more gorgeous voices (China's Luo Qi, who is pregnant, and Wei Wei, who isn't always on good form) or are more fun to be around (Chang and Hunan TV's Super Girl alumnus Zhou Bichang, who pull off dance numbers with loose-limbed aplomb). But who knows when the fascination with G.E.M. will fade?
Despite the buzz around the Taiwanese last year, Chinese pop duo Yu Quan emerged as the winners ultimately.
This week, another exotic flower, Malaysian singer-songwriter Shila Amzah, joins the contest and in four minutes, she might just change the game.
Me, I feel like a loser. Not one match has been played but in the wait for the fate of Singapore's World Cup telecasts, it is difficult not to feel defeated already. It is just a matter of waiting to find out what ridiculous price football fans here will have to pay this year, isn't it?
In such an unhappy state of affairs, mio TV - which paid many millions for English Premiere League broadcast rights in 2010, leading to the fiasco of overpriced World Cup telecast rights that year - is offering Are You Hokkien?, a crumb of a speak-dialect-in-Singapore variety show for Hokkien-starved viewers.
A sweet idea, but it feels like too little too late, and why isn't there a Great Singaporean Drama yet, featuring the local vernacular (a rojak of Singlish, Hokkien, Malay and everything else)?
On its own, Are You Hokkien? is a regular roaming variety show, the sort you might not notice in an identity parade of infotainment until hosts Marcus Chin and Huang Jinglun open their mouths and out comes dialect.
They also go around Chinatown and other locations, amassing anecdotal tidbits about Hokkien culture: For instance, the Hokkien green lion dance dates back to the anti-Qing dynasty struggle and, as "Qing" sounds the same as "green" in Chinese, the lion stands in for the Manchus and is given a beating.
Such stories sound fascinating and yet the show doesn't seem that interested, and seldom stops long enough to tell them fully.
I AM A SINGER 2
now Mango (StarHub TV Channel 836), Fridays, 8pm
ARE YOU HOKKIEN?
Jia Le Channel (mio TV Channel 502), Saturdays, 8.30pm
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