Sunday, April 2, 2006

China's Super Girl Needs a Rescue

American Idol is big. Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl's Voice is huge. Super Girl--as China's dairy-company-sponsored imitation of Idol is known--drew a TV audience of 400 million for the finale of its four-month run last year. Voting by text message, viewers chose Li Yuchun, 21, a college student who sang like a man and sometimes dressed like Mick Jagger, as their 2005 Super Girl.

Li Yuchun, on the cover of Time Asia

It turns out that she may also be the last one. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, China's chief broadcast regulator, last week issued new rules governing Idol-inspired shows. The directive says contests should contribute to "constructing a harmonious socialist society ... [They] must not make a hubbub about things as they please and must avoid creating stars." These restrictions may or may not prevent Super Girl from securing permission to air, but they're certain to cramp the show's style.

Less certain is what prompted the rebuke, which has stoked vigorous debate among the show's Net-savvy fans. Some speculate that the authorities worried that voting for TV contestants would make the Chinese want to vote in other contexts, such as for their political leaders. Others thought Li and her fellow finalists were insufficiently prim role models. It's also possible that Super Girl--produced by a station in Hunan province--was upstaging CCTV, China's national network, which produces its own more subdued but far less popular ersatz Idol.

Future Super Girls may see their ambitions quashed, but the directive reserves its harshest orders for prospective judges, who "should be positive and healthy ... They must not make contestants embarrassed." That last part may explain the original Simon Cowell's take on the Chinese rules: "Crazy."

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