For many aspiring Chinese singers, the best short-cut to stardom
is to enter the Central China Television Young Singers' Competition
and win in front of millions of TV viewers, somewhat like their
peers in the American Idol show.
Top award-winners always have better chances to enrol in leading
performing arts troupes in the country and to join a good many
variety shows, especially the Spring Festival TV Gala show, which
has a following of hundreds of millions.
The bi-annual event this year, which started on May 1, is said
to have drawn a few hundred million viewers across China.
The event is similar to the American Idol show in that it is a
But unlike American Idol, the contestants have to go through
strict pre-screening contests and get recommended from their own
performing arts and other affiliated organizations.
Then they are able to show their talent, their knowledge and win
favor from a galaxy of top composers, established singers and music
critics in China, who form the panels of judges for the
The high and strict professional and musical standards attract
many young singers, such as ethnic Mongolian singer Morigen.
New group emerges
In fact, the competition for stardom this year is getting
fiercer because a lot of ethnic minority singers like Morigen seem
to be stealing the show by displaying their distinctive voices and
various styles of songs.
Like Morigen, ethnic minority singers are now recognized as
singers of yuanshengtai meaning literally "original, natural state
In fact, when the competition started in 1984, there was no
division of groups, and all the singers competed together. From
1986 to 2004, the competition was divided into three groups.
One group sang in bel canto, following the "beautiful singing"
or elegant Italian vocal style characterized by florid melodic
lines delivered by voices of great agility, smoothness and purity
The second presented folk songs of different locales and
different ethnic groups in China, but the variety seemed to be
limited only to those already written and recorded in the country's
compendium of folk and ethnic minority music.
The third was reserved for pop singers and pop-song groups,
whose works are often characterized by unconventional beats and
melodies from rock'n'roll to rap, and lyrics of more personal
However, when Morigen tried to show her own flair in singing at
the competition two years ago as a vocal student from the Central
University of Nationalities, she couldn't fit into any of the three
She registered herself as a pop singer after all, she was
popular among the folks of her home town in the Inner Mongolia
Autonomous Region. She did not qualify for the finals.
But the brand new category for indigenous ethnic singers
rekindled Morigen's hope for stardom. She entered this year's
competition with her own group called "Nuoenjiya." She founded the
group in 2001 with two other ethnic Mongolian singers to perform
Mongolian folk songs.
In the final of the team competition on May 15, they represented
the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and won a score of 97.41, out
of the full score of 100. They also qualified for the individual
competition scheduled in July.
"Though we didn't come first with our score, we are very happy
to perform in our own styles," said Morigen.
Long Xian'e of the Miao ethnic group has similar experience.
In the conventional "folk song" category of the 2004
competition, her traditional Miao style of singing provoked
controversy among the judges, who gave her scores ranging between
93.5 and 97.5.
Some judges held that her singing technique did not meet the
standard for the conventional folk song category, though Long's
singing sounded good.
However, she caught the attention of other music professionals,
including well-known composer Tan Dun. They believe that Long has a
unique and most natural voice that should be treasured at a time
when imitation seems prevalent among singers.
At the invitation of Tan, Long performed Tan's multimedia work
"The Map," and toured the United States and the Netherlands. She
also got a chance to study at the Shanghai Conservatory of
This year, Long participated in the CCTV Young Singers'
Televised Competition again, and scored 98.30 for her natural voice
with little embellishment from established schools of singing.
As the new group of singers like Morigen and Long have been
thrown into the limelight, hundreds of millions of TV viewers,
music fans as well as performing arts professionals are exposed to
songs and voices most have never heard of before.
The singing styles within this new category are diverse.
Among them are the remarkably high-pitched xintianyou songs from
Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, the excessively low-pitched
khoomei or overtone singing of ethnic Mongolians, the Tibetan
mountain songs, and the multi-part chorus of the Dong people.
"The new group of singers reminds us of the many singing
traditions in China that are being marginalized," said Xiao Mei, a
professor of ethnomusicology in Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
Like Xiao, most of the judges in the panel for this new group of
ethnic singers are ethnomusicologists. Trekking into the mountains
and remote villages, they collect traditional Chinese folk and
ethnic minority music as their vocation.
They believe these natural voices and indigenous music represent
the cultural diversity that we now must treasure, as the world's
culture is inclined to become more homogeneous in the era of
globalization. If we value and preserve all these diversified forms
of ethnic and folk singing heritage, these offer inspiration for
creative and better new music and songs for a long time to
The competition provided a good opportunity for audiences
throughout China to appreciate the music that used to be limited to
remote places, even though it will take time before many in the
audiences can fall in love with their styles of songs or
Xiao was a judge for the first 10 days of competition. She said
she found that she had been to all the participant singers' places
of origin to do field work, so their singing styles were not
unfamiliar to her.
She and her colleagues have come to an agreement that they judge
from the degree to which these singers carry on their own music
legacy, said Xiao.
And the stars, who will give a grand gala televised show on
Tuesday, are those who are firmly rooted in their ethnic
(China Daily May 22, 2006)