The spectacle of wailing, weeping, swooning, groveling fans has prompted China to crack down on vulgar star-making shows. TV scenes of out-of-control teenage girls are to be avoided.
The star is in the spotlight, enjoying all the flowers, acclaim and opportunities. The frenetic fans - crucial to his success - are in the virtual dark, screaming for the merest glance from their hero on stage.
He is the idol, they are the worshipers, overwhelmingly teenage girls. This fan-idol relationship is powerful and compelling to many young women. It can also be fragile as fans are notoriously fickle and fame is often short-lived.
The star has the charisma (also manufactured by fans and promoters) to make fans swoon, scream, weep and go wild for him - in short, to make his career. But the fans, in turn, can make or break him, especially as so many talent shows rely on fan votes to determine the winners.
While he is basking in the limelight, many fans are queuing just to see him in person, to gratify their yearning, some would say to give focus to their lives. Many see this as unhealthy.
It's a symbiotic relationship. He needs them, they need him. It would seem that the two cannot live without each other.
While the focus is usually on the stars, let's focus on the fans and spotlight the fan scene itself.
Fans are passionate, neurotic and fickle everywhere in the world, but China's fan phenomenon is particularly prodigious - some would say egregious - as star-making talent shows are all the rage. Some of the best known are "My Hero," "My Show," "Super Girl" and "Happy Boy," but there are many others nationwide.
The fervid fan scene itself and the spectacle of wailing, frenetic fans has become a source of concern to authorities. The scenes of near hysteria, including fans who appear to faint, are regularly televised in the talent contests.
Some fans, virtually all members of fan clubs or communities, follow their young idol wannabes around. Obsessive fans even prepare meals for the humble grassroots aspirants when they fall ill and even telephone them to remind them to stay warm and take their medicine.
It's like Beatlemania with Chinese characteristics.
The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television last Thursday issued strict regulations limiting TV star-making shows that rely on the buzz, the hype and the profitable votes by fans using mobile phone SMS, the Internet or telephone.
Such voting is banned, the shows are banned from prime time, live broadcasts are banned, except for finals, televised scenes of out-of-control fans are to be avoided.
The ban on voting, which is part of the thrill and largely determines the winners, will clearly affect fan clubs' efforts to attract more voting fans. Passionate fans say that doesn't matter and they will continue to follow their stars on the way to the top, and in their careers.
However, there are fake fans - fans for hire - who must be disappointed as their income will decline. No one knows how many there are and no one admits to being one, however, the Internet is abuzz with reports about fans who faint for money.
One newspaper, Shanghai Wednesday, reported late last month that some fans earn 20 yuan (US$2.70) for holding up a sign, 50 yuan for screaming, 100 yuan for bursting into tears and 200 yuan for falling down in a faint.
It also reported that the unidentified star makers who pay professional fans also categorize them as blue collars, white collars and gold collars. Blue collars do the basics, show up, cheer and wave signs; white collars deliver more passion and tears, and the gold collars even more - swooning and other antics.
Insiders reveal that those so-called "professional fans" can earn 2,000 to 3,000 yuan a month. Their basic job is queuing up and screaming out at the shows. Usually they use eyedrops and tissue to create the most touching moments. They buy a lot of tablets to soothe sore throats hoarse from screaming.
However, this new theatrical vocation doesn't receive good reviews from Netizens. One who calls himself "Sweet Dog" criticizes the false tears and smiles of these "employees," calling the fake frenzy "an offspring of the fast-food entertainment industry."
All of this paid-for passion is unethical and probably illegal, but probably impossible to stop.
The "real" earnest fans, who are deeply involved in their fan communities, naturally disapprove.
Like Elisabeth Xiao, 21-year-old leader of a 600-member Shanghai fan community for "My Hero" winner Jing Boran, 18.
"Our love for Jing is in our hearts, with no thought for a reward," says Xiao, a university junior who pays sizable fan activity expenses out of her own pocket. "When love is mixed with money, the work is no longer pure, it's just acting."
She says the new state regulations "won't have a big influence on our work as we always call for a moderate and more rational way to support our star."
However, according to Wang Lei, a veteran journalist who covers the TV beat, Xiao and other fans have inevitably been plunged into the utilitarian idol-making industry.
"The idol business tries to form and maintain a community of fans," he says. "Star-making shows enable someone to proceed on the way to superstardom, and some crazy fans will finance that. But the point is whether the star is really worth it. Isn't he acting to look nice and perfect?"
Xiao and her fans, mostly teenage girls, are model fans. Xiao says her four months as fan leader were fascinating and rewarding. Xiao, who dresses in clobber style, is a typical Shanghainese girl, smart, capable and stylish. During a two-hour interview, her cell phone kept ringing. She uses Jing's words as her SMS alert.
"As I am an ordinary and low-key person, I didn't expect to stand up and manage a community with about 600 members," she says.
Xiao was one of Jing's earliest fans. Given the boy from Shenyang's lack of recognition in the city, she took on the job of fan club leader in June. Each star's fan club has its special name, identical T-shirts and headgear. Jing's fans are called "Baby Faces" because Jing sometimes wears a puffed-cheeks baby-face expression. The fans wear bunny ears and blue shirts.
The community is highly organized. "Different tasks and skills mean more efficient team work. Accountants handle membership fees and specific people prepare props and accessories, like flashing signs. Good writers come up with catchy slogans," says Xiao.
On many weekends the teens gathered downtown to promote their "hero," urging passerbys to vote for him.
"I once stood in the scorching sun for eight hours without eating any food," Xiao recalls of her missionary work.
Her hard work paid off. Jing received more than 450,000 SMS votes in July's final. He was signed by the Huayi Brothers Media Group and received a Peugeot car and promotion contracts.
"We take pride in him," says Wang Wei, Xiao's high school classmate and fellow fan. "The young man who was reared by his grandparents after his parents were divorced has such a pure and strong heart."
Though the curtain has fallen on the contest, Xiao has a continuing mission: maintaining Jing's popularity in the competitive and risky entertainment industry.
Jing's promotion agency asks Xiao's help in getting market feedback on his singing or acting programs. The fan club is ideal place to conduct surveys and it helps collect names for promotions.
Many fans envy her easier access to the star. But the unpaid work entails a lot of drudgery, and it's costly.
The 30-yuan membership fee doesn't cover the club's budget for activities, gifts, supplies and communications fees. Xiao has spent more than 2,000 yuan of her own money to make up the difference.
She keeps in touch with Jing's agent, gets the latest on the star's activities and posts the news on the BBS on Baidu and Tianya.
"When he arrives in the city, we will meet him at the airport, giving him warm hugs and applause," Xiao says. "His career has just taken off, and he is not alone, we are with him."
Idol worship: Pros and cons
Q: What do you think of those crazy fans?
Q: What makes a responsible fan?
Xu Jingyi, 15, high school student
It's amazing that I am planning to do some crazy things at May Day's concert. I intend to wait at their hotel - I used to think this was crazy. Anyway, there are not many things you feel passionate about.
A responsible fan is passionate for concerts, interactive activities, etc. Buying the genuine CDs is a must.
Shu Qi, 21, university student
Once I was a "Nian Gao" (fans of Gao Yayuan, last year's "My Show" contestant). I showed up wherever she went. I just wanted to do something for her. My photo taken with Seven (Gao's English name) even appears in her autobiography "Yuan Lai Shi Ni" ("It Turns Out To Be You"). I felt so proud at that time.
But when I look back on those times, I think it's a little bit crazy. If you really like her, buy her CDs. That's enough and really good for her.
Dai Yiqing, 23, university student
Fans spare no efforts to come into close contact with their idols: It's perfectly understandable. They usually buy genuine CDs, which is the greatest recognition to the stars.
Good fans should be passionate and sensible. On one hand, follow the whereabouts of their idols. On the other hand, don't splash rumors about.
Lina Xia, 25, bank clerk
It's so crazy and sometimes mad, totally beyond my understanding. The fans squander their parents' money. As to those who cry their eyes out (at their idols' setbacks), I'm not sure whether their hearts would be broken over the misfortunes of people who are more closely related to them.
If you like him, buy the genuine CDs and invest more in the charity activities initiated by your idol.
Yuan Yi, 30, IT engineer
Everything should be carried out in a proper way. It's the same with idol worship. It's all right for the young people to be crazy about their idols, however, this should not affect their normal lives.
Keeping an eye on the whereabouts of idols is enough.
Ms Gao, 50, doctor
They are too crazy. There's no problem with adoration. But the lack of reason should not be encouraged, for example, spending a lot of money to buy everything related to the star.
A good fan doesn't necessarily scream out in the presence of their idol. It is better to learn from idol's strong points to correct their own weaknesses, discard the dross and select the essential.
(Shanghai Daily September 27, 2007)