After a three year hiatus, Hunan TV's popular Super Girls talent show returned to the small screen this (northern) summer. The 2009 version of the show was re-badged as 快乐女声, which translates as Happy Girls. This just sounds like Chinglish so, thankfully, the producers kept the original English title.
Billed as the largest talent competition in the world, Super Girls 2009 had its grand finale last Friday evening. In a three-way play-off, 21 year old Sichuan native, Jiang Yingrong (江映蓉), was crowned the winner, beating second-place getter Li Xiaoyun (李霄云), while sentimental favourite, Huang Ying (黃英), finished third.
Jiang Yingrong won despite being well behind some of the other contestants in the public polls on the Baidu and QQ web portals. Although Jiang failed to gain the enthusiastic public followings of singers like Zeng Yike and Sara Liu, she won over the judges with her more accomplished and versatile performances.
The final night required each of the singers to perform six songs. Huang Ying was the first to be eliminated, despite her unique high-pitched voice and a heartwarming background story of an impoverished upbringing. The original field of tens of thousands of contest hopefuls had been reduced to just two standing. Li Xiaoyun, who composes some of her own songs and is fluent in English, had a big following amongst teenage girls. But in the end her less than perfect vocal skills swung the balance in Jiang Yingrong's favour. Wikipedia of all places has some pretty thorough tables showing the voting process for this year's competition.
Super Girls 2009 was, predictably, a big ratings success for Hunan TV. No doubt the most popular contestants, all of whom are signed to EE Media - a branch of Hunan TV - will generate lucrative record sales. However, like the earlier seasons, not everyone approves of the concept. One National Congress politician infamously denounced the earlier series for "contaminating our youth" while other critics compared it to Western junk food.
Another criticism was that the democratic process was more of a popularity contest than a fair reward of the most talented singers. Perhaps as a result, this season the public voting component was dramatically scaled back and viewers could no longer text their votes. The only concession to a public vote was a panel of audience members who cast votes along with the judges and industry executives. Of course another factor may have been the concern that if people get the idea they can vote for singers they like, who knows - they might want to apply it to politics too!