Chinese audiences tune in to homegrown 'The Voice'

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After NBC found immense success with "The Voice" in the United States last year, the show managed to sail into the Chinese mainland market despite the country's restraint on reality shows.

According to CSM Media Research's estimate, "The Voice of China" -- the original Dutch music show's Chinese adaptation -- topped nationwide ratings rankings when its was shown on Zhejiang Satellite TV last Friday night, attracting 2.77 percent of the country's television audience.

Even re-runs of the show grabbed ratings higher than the premiere of any other music show this year, the company said.

Introduced in China on July 13, the weekly "The Voice of China" is almost identical to the U.S. version -- through a blind audition, four celebrity judges/coaches choose teams of singers who will compete for a recording contract.

The fun part is that the coaches have to compete with each other and sometimes "beg" strong singers to join their teams.

Singers who shot to stardom includes Huang He, a 20-year-old countryside girl who amused the four coaches with a powerful rendition of Adele's Rolling in the Deep.

While the NBC show secured Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levin as its four celebrity coaches, Zhejiang TV managed to invite Chinese celebrities such as renowned musician Liu Huan -- who sang the Beijing Olympics theme song "You and Me" with Sarah Brightman -- and pop diva Na Ying as coaches, as well as mainland singer Yang Kun and Harlem Yu, a singer-songwriter from Taiwan.

The impressive debut of "The Voice of China" was not expected by Chinese music critics, especially at a time when the market is flooded with similar foreign-format reality shows, including "American Idol" to "You've Got Talent."

To compete for audience attention, some shows have gone to the brink of vulgarity and strangeness, prompting a government-initiated restriction on "overly entertaining" reality shows from the state broadcasting watchdog late last year.

"The 'Voice' upholds the principle of selecting really good voices. We don't do celebrity flirting, low taste or vulgar content," said Xia Chen'an, chief executive of Zhejiang TV.

"I like the sense of honesty and respect for music shown by 'Voice' contestants. They are different from those in other reality shows," netizen "elsa" wrote in a microblog post.

After its debut, "The Voice of China" trended for a week on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging space.

Some fans have voiced the hope that "The Voice of China" could spur a "renaissance" in China's show industry.

The producer of Zhejiang TV's "The Voice of China" Tian Ming admitted that the country's TV production sector lags so far behind its Western counterparts that it is too early for China to come up with a successful homegrown show format.

Tian said each adaptation of a popular Western TV show gives Chinese producers an opportunity to learn and improve.

"We can avoid taking the wrong paths. If by learning, we can catch up with the West in 10 to 20 years, I think it is worthwhile," said Lu Wei, publicity executive of Zhejiang TV's "The Voice of China."

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