How 'The Voice of China' Rose to Success
Renowned musician Liu Huan, pop diva Na Ying, mainland singer Yang Kun and Taiwan singer-songwriter Harlem Yu are the show's coaches. [China.org.cn]
This year a new TV reality show became an instant hit with audiences and forever changed the landscape of Chinese television broadcasting. Within a few hours of its first live broadcast on July 13, "The Voice of China" managed to capture the viewers' attention and hearts.
"The Voice of China", China's adaptation of a Dutch reality talent show, sees its hopeful contestants going through a blind audition, with four celebrity judges/coaches picking their teams of singers who will then go on to compete for a recording contract and a highly publicized concert performance.
The show turned out to be an unexpected success, especially at a time when the TV market is basically oversaturated due to the large numbers of reality talent shows similar to western programs that are coming to viewers on a daily basis, like "American Idol," "X-Factor" and "You've Got Talent."
As the NBC show secured Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine as its four U.S. celebrity coaches, Zhejiang Satellite TV managed to lure Chinese celebrities such as renowned musician Liu Huan -- who sang the Beijing Olympics theme "You and Me" with Sarah Brightman -- and pop diva Na Ying, mainland singer Yang Kun and Taiwan singer-songwriter Harlem Yu to come on as the show's coaches.
When the production team first approached Na Ying and Liu Huan, both were unwilling to appear on the show. Producer of Zhejiang TV's "The Voice of China" Tian Ming said: "The two simply refused. They did not want to participate in any kind of talent show."
But Tian did not throw in the towel just yet and flew to Beijing over ten times, repeatedly explaining to them the format of the show and showing them the tapes of the Dutch and U.S. versions. Eventually the two gave in to Tian and took their seat in the show's coaching chairs.
In an early internal memo exclusively obtained by China.org.cn, China's producers also tried to invite another legendary rocker, Wang Feng, to act as a coach, but Yang Kun ended up taking his place eventually. The original show, "The Voice of Holland", was created by famed Dutch television producer John de Mol and produced by Mark Burnett.
Wang Feng will however appear during the upcoming second phase of the show, the so-called battle phase. This stage will see two contestants from each team going head to head by performing a song together and ends with their coach choosing which one of them will go on to the next round of the competition.
In the Chinese edition, a coach will ask a fellow musician to come to help him or her decide which contestant to pick. Na Ying chose Wang Feng, Liu chose San Bao, Yu chose music producer Wang Chi-ping and Yang chose Coco Lee. The new phase will begin broadcasting on August 24.
"It's not a program, it's a campaign," the memo said, "We want to bring back China's belief in music and restore the people's cultural confidence."
A singer performs at the stage of "The Voice of China". [China.org.cn]
Before all of the abovementioned gets onto the screens across the nation, there are 6 blind auditioning shows. Each of the four coaches/judges has the length of the auditioner's performance to decide whether or not he or she wants that singer on his or her team; if two or more judges want the same singer, the singer has the final choice of coach. They can never judge by looks or styles as every judge sits with their back towards those auditioning. The judges can only decide based on vocal performances and if they hear something they like, they hit a button and turn around to see the person singing.
This format has never before been seen on any Chinese TV show and its producers make it one of the most heartwarming and story-telling shows ever when they show the coaches interacting with auditioners, professionally, gracefully and wittily. Although every auditioner may have some bittersweet story to tell, the show focuses on how to look at the bright side of any given situation and how to give people positive energy.
Never harsh, never outrageous. Sometimes they all cried their hearts out onscreen, displaying how even failure can be inspiring. TV audiences now also get the chance to catch a sneak peek of the Chinese top singers' down-to-earth personalities.
Jin Lei, the director of the show, didn't deny the program's format is first and foremost designed to entertain, "It is a reality show for the auditioners, but also for the judges. We use the most ruthless, most honest and most natural ways as an invisible hand to push the show forward."
Tian Ming, CEO of News Corp and China Media Capital's joint-venture Star China Media, bought the rights to "The Voice" two years ago, but have never got a TV platform interested until he met Zhejiang TV's Xia Chen'An. The latter produced a reality TV show to help ordinary people realize their dreams. The two agreed to collaborate.
"The Voice of China" team then tried its very best to score some good voices.
"I was a director who loved music and want to discover that one great voice would grasp the attention of a fickle public," A Bu, one of the directors said in a invitation to many potential auditioners obtained by China.org.cn, "Our show's directors are searching for musical starlet or those who have musical hopes and dreams. We don't just invite average and normal people to come to the show. What we want to achieve , is to awaken and revive Chinese pop music."
They sent agents to bars, nightclubs, music academies and military art troops. Whenever they encountered a good voice, they would record it, number it then send it back to the directors and music director. Only 150 audio files made it through the first selection rounds.
"We don't care about your looks, job or background, the only thing matters is your voice," Jin Lei emphasized. The Dutch copyright owner used one entire page of the format to explain this .
"The Voice of China" is produced under the supervision and direction of foreign representatives of the copyright holder. And the foreigners attended the recordings to ensure Chinese parties were following the show's set practices.
Logo of "The Voice of China".
After its debut, "The Voice of China" became a hot trending topic on the popular Sina Weibo microblog. Some fans have expressed their hopes that "The Voice of China" can trigger a renaissance in Chinese show business.
Even the show's tiniest details follow the tome-like manual, from the black suits, black background, lighting and stage setting, to the angle the microphone should be at. 27 cameras are in the studio, ready to capture every detail of coaches and auditioners, even the 4 original red chairs were brought in from the UK. The sound system cost an unprecedented 20 million yuan (US$3.14 million), more than the total cost of a New Year evening gala.
Xia Chen'An said they record 1000-minutes worth of material that they then edit into an 80-minute show. "I call it the television blockbuster," Xia said, "The effects are good, the investment is huge; it is the combination of top resources."
According to CSM Media Research's estimate, "The Voice of China" topped nationwide ratings when its was shown on every Friday night, attracting 1.5, 2.77, 3.09, 3.34 and 3.302 percent of the country's television audience for the past 5 episodes of blind audition shows. Even re-runs of the show got higher ratings than the premieres of any other music show this year, the company said.
Lu Wei, the show's publicity director, said the price of a prime time 15-second advertisement has risen from 136,000 yuan (US$21,376) to 360,000 yuan (US$56,584), and will keep going up. The soft drink company Jia Duo Bao endorses the show with a 60 million yuan (US$9.43 million) sponsorship, but according to Lu the actual exclusive sponsor fee is between 80 million (US$12.57 million) to 90 million yuan (US$14.14 million).
In the competition for viewer attention, some shows have gone to the edges of eccentricity , prompting a government-initiated control of "overly entertaining" reality shows from the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) late last year.
"The Voice upholds the principle of selecting really good voices. We don't show any celebrity flirting, or vulgar content," Xia Chen'an, chief executive of Zhejiang TV, told Xinhua earlier this month.
Even the hard to please state broadcasting watchdog praised the show. Gao Changli, an official with the SARFT, said right after its debut: "There were so many talent and music shows; why were they not hot? 'The Voice' is hot because the coaches are top rank and so were the people who came to audition. This program pays attention to both quality and reality."
Jin Lei later summarized why the show is so fascinating, "China's top singing and recording artists can have a dialogue with average people here, but at the same time they don't know what they are going to get."
"This is like the Roman Colosseum, people have to fight to change their life. This is where the dramatic tension lies in," he added.