No A-mei or Harlem this year, but The Voice of China 中国好声音 comes back big with a new judge, an old judge, and a fresh batch of talent. The season three Voice premiere saw the introduction of first-time mentor, Taiwanese singer-songwriter Chyi Chin 齐秦, replacing Harlem Yu, and the return of Yang Kun who replaced A-mei (who replaced Yang Kun the year before). The mentor lineup now stands as:
- Na Ying 那英
- Wang Feng 汪峰
- Yang Kun 杨坤
- Chyi Chin 齐秦
With the addition of Chyi Chin, the judging panel now becomes 50% Manchu, much like the Qing Grand Council in the 18th century. The more you know.
Chyi Chin is a strange choice. He wasn’t especially popular on I Am A Singer. I would have liked Coco Lee. Speaking of whom, have you registered for auditions for Chinese Idol yet?
This post is the first in a series of weekly recaps for The Voice of China. Review the second episode here.
If you you’re the type of Voice viewer who only occasionally watches clips of performances, feel free to skip ahead for the videos.
The episode begins with Na Ying walking on stage, singing fellow mentor Wang Feng’s Braveheart 勇敢的心. Her placard-wielding teenage entourage seems a little bit lost and not at all excited to be on TV. In contrast, when fans get this close to The Voice UK judges, crotches get grabbed.
Yang Kun is the second judge to make an appearance, transitioning the medley into Chyi Chin’s Heartless Rain, Heartless You 无情的雨无情的你. Wang Feng then appears to sing Na Ying’s The Day Doesn’t Understand the Dark of Night 白天不懂夜的黑. I am sensing a trend here. If the next mentor sings a Yang Kun song, I am going to reward myself with a doughnut. Wang Feng is singing for a long time compared to the others before him.
Finally, Chyi Chin takes the stage with Yang Kun’s The Moon Can Represent My Heart 月亮可以代表我的心. I think I’ll go for cinnamon. The other judges, having taken their seats, tap their buzzers and swivel around to choose Chyi Chin, welcoming him into the fold. Ah, yes, very symbolic and creative. All four judges return to the stage and finish off with Braveheart.
Liu Zhijia 刘至佳
Girl On Fire by Alicia Keys
This university student kicks off the very first audition of the year with the introduction to the Black Eyed Peas’ Let’s Get It Started. It’s similar to Laure Shang’s performance on I Am A Singer. She then begins to rap an unknown song before finally settling on Girl On Fire. Liu half-yodels, half-grunts the Alicia Keys’ number, sounding a bit like the lovechild of Christina Aguilera and Shakira. Her voice is strong, but lacks control. All judges except Na Ying turn for her.
Yang Kun says her control isn’t perfect, but promises to turn her into a cannonball if she chooses him. Cannonball, not cannon fodder, he guarantees. Chyi Chin asks Liu if she wrote the rap herself. She admits that she did, saying she wants to show her attitude as a 90s kid. You need to be brave and chase after your dreams, she declares, because if you never try, you’ll never accomplish them. Wang Feng is impressed, telling her that the Dream Squad is here. He talks about dreams a lot.
Na Ying announces that Chongqing girls are fiery. Or spicy, depending on how you want to look at it.
“Nobody understands Chonqing girls better than me,” declares Chyi Chin.
“Why is that?” asks Na Ying.
Chyi Chin says it’s because his wife, who is 24 years his junior, is Sichuanese. (Chongqing was once part of Sichuan before splitting off into its own quasi-province in 1997).
Na Ying admits that Sichuan women are a “formidable 厉害” lot.
Yang Kun says, win or lose, he’ll be happy and offers to turn around. Chyi Chin accuses him of ku rou ji 苦肉计, an ancient Chinese war stratagem of injuring oneself to garner sympathy. We are learning a lot of Chinese history today.
Liu Zhijia eventually chooses Chyi Chin.
Cui Zhonghua 崔忠华
34, Dandong, Liaoning
I Heard That Love Came Back 听说爱情回来过 by Sandy Lam
The next contestant is a wedding emcee who unfortunately doesn’t get to spend much time with his wife. That’s an ironic shame. Most modern Chinese weddings are hosted by a master of ceremonies who may be involved in everything from planning to officiating the ceremony, though some just provide entertainment during the wedding banquet. Chinese weddings are intricate affairs as you can imagine. Cui reveals that his wife used to be singer and taught him how to sing, which makes you wonder why she’s not auditioning instead of him. (She could always audition for Super Diva instead)
Cui delivers an emotive performance for his wife. This time, all judges except for Wang Feng turn for the singer. Cui chooses Na Ying. Na Ying has a habit of trying to take all the singers in the first episode. Is Cui Korean (which would make him a Choi 최)? If he is, it’s peculiar that they didn’t bring up his background, especially since they had contestants audition in hanbok last season.
Mao Zeshao 毛泽少
30, Shenyang, Liaoning
See You at the Next Intersection 下个，路口，见 by Chris Lee
Hey, this is Mao Zeshao. She was in the 2010 season of Blossoming Flowers 花儿朵朵, an all-female singing competition. She’s singing a Li Yuchun song but throws in a smattering of English into the chorus. “See you next road” doesn’t strike me as being the most proper of English phrases, however. Overall, it’s not a terribly difficult song but she’s showing a lot of control in her voice. Na Ying turns for her. Being the only judge able to see the performer, she looks at the other judges who still have their backs turned, sours her face, and offers a thumbs down. The other judges take the hint and leave their buzzers untouched. Mao finishes singing and the male judges finally get to see the auditionee. She’s actually quite pretty.
“Why didn’t you turn?” Na Ying asks the others, mockingly.
“I just want everyone to know that Na Ying is a huge liar,” Yang Kun announces. “You really are despicable, Na Ying.” The audience laughs. “Do you know what she was doing behind my back just then?” Yang Kun protests. “I was going to press the buzzer, but she kept going, ‘No, no, she’s not very good.’ You really are just too much. You know what that is? Fraud!”
“I was afraid you were going to steal her from me,” Na Ying admits, “So I told a white lie.”
Na Ying is happy when she finds out her new protégé is from her hometown of Shenyang and asks what she does for a living. She’s a fashion model for an online store on Taobao, she tells her. Na Ying is impressed. “If you aren’t able to sell all your clothes, come find me and I’ll do a shoot for you.”
Her father has been really supportive of her choosing to become a singer, Mao says, but now that she’s older, he thinks maybe she should get married and settle down. “How old are you?” asks Chyi Chin.
Mao says sheepishy, “I’m 30 this year.”
“Whaaat?” Chyi Chin is surprised. “No way! You look so young!” he says. She does have a very girly quality about her.
“Na Ying too!” our contestant offers. “We Shengyang people are just youthful in general.”
Wang Feng reminds her that Na Ying has already chosen her and she doesn’t need to flatter her any more.
Na Ying apologises to Yang Kun for her earlier deception. “I’m so sorry,” she says in English.
Nobody mentions Mao’s previous appearance on Blossoming Flowers.
Melody Tan 陈永馨
The Things You Don’t Know 你不知道的事 by Wang Leehom
Malaysians have generally been popular in China, but the perceived mishandling of the MH370 tragedy dampened the usually positive sentiment held by many Chinese. Then along comes Melody, who is quick to remind us of her ancestral ties to Fujian. Her father, she says, wants her to speak Chinese because Chinese will be an international language. Ah, one big, happy family.
The host, Hua Shao, comes over and hands Melody a phone. Is that the new Huawei Honor 6? No, it doesn’t look like it. In fact, it doesn’t look like a flagship phone at all. Why is Huawei paying for product placement for an unidentifiable, mid-tier phone? We’re shown a demonstration of the phone’s video-playing ability as Melody’s mother appears on the screen to wish her luck. Apparently video calls aren’t a thing anymore. You can tell that Melody’s family doesn’t speak Mandarin at home.
Melody sings a delicately innocent rendition of a Wang Leehom classic. She’s the first auditionee to have all four judges buzz their swivel chairs. “Perfect,” Wang Feng says in English.
“I’m Chen Yongxin. I’m from Malaysia. I’m 21 years old. My English name is Melody.”
“Melody, are you Malaysian?” asks Yang Kun.
She nods. “I’m Malaysian Chinese.”
They’re really drumming up her Malaysianness.
Yang Kun says she has a very gentle and tender voice. He’s genuinely impressed that such a delicate voice could transition into something so forceful. Wang Feng remarks that Melody has amazingly accurate pitch. He’s only ever heard two other female singers who, in the recording studio, sing so flawlessly. One is Faye Wong. The other is Na Ying. Wang Feng is lucky that A-mei isn’t still on the judging panel or he’d have some explaining to do.
Chyi Chin pays Melody a huge compliment and compares her voice to that of Celine Dion. Her voice, he says, has a hint of sadness to it. It’s capable of touching the listener’s heart.
Na Ying asks Melody why she came from Malaysia to join The Voice. Melody responds that she is studying at the Guangxi Arts Institute, adding that The Voice of China is the biggest program of its kind for Overseas Chinese, and she hopes that the judges on the show will be able to help her grow. She says her dream is to become a Chinese-language singer. Auditioning in China would explain how Melody bypassed the only-one-candidate-from-Malaysia rule which should see semi-established singer Virus Wu 吳禹錡 making an appearance in the upcoming audition rounds. Melody ends up choosing Yang Kun.
Chen Zhi 陈直
28, Chengdu, Sichuan
Elope 私奔 by Zheng Jun
Next up is Chen Zhi, a guitar-wielding rocker from Sichuan. Looking at his wife, I’m guessing he must have a great personality which just doesn’t translate across the television screen. His wife shows us some pictures on her phone as the camera zooms in closely so as not to reveal the non-Huawei branding. Chen Zhi’s shoes are rather pink for a rock singer. Is it just me, or do a lot of Chinese rock vocalists sound very similar?
Chyi Chin and Wang Feng both turn for him. Na Ying admits that the only reason she didn’t press her buzzer was because rock is not her forte. “I once had a protégé (on the show) named Liang Bo who sang that song,” says Na Ying, referring to the season one Voice winner. “He sang it really well. But today, you sang it better.” Well, that’s it then. Everybody might as well just go home.
Chen Zhi predictably chooses Wang Feng as his mentor. Nobody else on the panel does rock music.
Luo Jingwen 罗景文
21, Changde, Hunan
Blue Suede Shoes + You Are What You Eat 看见什么吃什么 by Elvis Presley, Yoga Lin
Luo Jingwen comes traipsing into the Voice of China studio arm-in-arm with his mother. They have a very Gilmore Girls relationship going on by the looks of it. I’m not sure that The Voice is the right show for him. He looks like he’d do better in a boy band. Is Exo looking for a replacement member?
The lower third caption says he’s going to sing an Elvis song. Don’t stayboo maboo wayjoo, he sings. I don’t think English is quite his thing, though I appreciate that he managed to get every second syllable in “step on my blue suede shoes” to rhyme.
He switches to a Yoga Lin song, and now I don’t think it’s the language after all, because I still don’t understand what he’s singing in Chinese. And back to English. Bayookadoo annaadeng badega omma blue sway CHEW. This is actually what he’s singing. All four judges turn for him and I’m confused as to why.
Luo is conflicted. He doesn’t know which judge to choose. “Who would your mother want you to pick?” Na Ying asks jokingly. He chooses Chyi Chin. They run up to high-five and hug. Luo turns to walk off the stage and Chyi Chin slaps his butt. That… that’s a weird thing to do.
Lou Qin 楼沁
咕叽咕叽 by Stefanie Sun
Luo Qin reminds me a lot of Ding Ding from season one. Maybe it’s the nasal singing. Maybe it’s their collective love of short shorts. She doesn’t really impress vocally, but at least her English has been better than most of the others so far. Three judges with the exception of Wang Feng tap their buzzers.
“Do you know who she reminds me of?” Yang Kun asks. “Ding Ding,” he announces, apparently having read my mind. “The voice and the look really remind me of her.”
Chyi Chin verifies that Luo Qin’s mother and grandmother are here today. “They must know me, right?” he asks, confident in his status as a hearthrob to elderly women.
“My mom really likes your songs!” Lou Qin squeals before choosing Chyi Chin.
29, Korla, Xinjiang
Tasselflower 绒花 by Li Guyi
Turghanjan (I hope I’ve romanised his name properly) is a Uyghur singer from central Xinjiang. He comes with a moderately established career, having won a few awards and appeared in the usual CCTV traditional ethnic minority performances along the way. Folk singers in recent years have used the platform of reality TV to transition to pop music. But with the years of training and performing experience under their belts, they’re often much better than their fellow contestants.
Turghanjan, who speaks fluent Mandarin, likes to collect shanshui landscape paintings. And classical Chinese poetry. And has an afinity for Peking opera. He’s very much the poster child for ethnic harmony in China. Hey, he even sang a song about it once.
Today he’s singing a difficult-to-translate song. It’s a type of flower; let’s just leave it at that. He delivers a gentle, polished performance, blending in Uyghur vocal stylings towards the end of the song. He has a strong command of his voice. Surprisingly, only Na Ying turns for him. Wang Feng commends Turghanjan on his song choice which sparks a discussion about the age of the song. Wang Feng thinks it must be at least 30 years old. “Even older,” claims Chyi Chin, because the original singer is his senior and he’s been in the game for 30 years.
Chyi Chin likes the musical inflections of Xinjiang that Turghanjan included in his performance. He asks him what his biggest dream is. “To incorporate the spirit of Xinjiang into popular music and marry the two elements together,” Turghanjan replies. His answer sounds rehearsed, as if he’s said it a thousand times before. The judges are impressed nonetheless.
Zheng Junshu 郑俊树
20, Dalian, Liaoning
You Raise Me Up
Zheng Junshu is another one of those ambiguously Korean contestants whose heritage is never talked about. His voice is deep, commanding, and unique for the competition. At the end of the performance, Yang Kun is the only judge whose chair remains unswiveled. “How did you go on your high school exams?” asks Na Ying of the 20-year-old.
“Nationally, I got into the Communication University of China,” he states. “In the US, I got into Berklee College of Music.” The judges and audience provide the requisite oohs and aahs, commending him on his success.
Zheng says he chose an English song because he was a bit troubled, thus beginning his expositional humble-brag of an explanation. “My classmates would all sing JJ Lin, Wang Leehom, those types of songs.” The judges nod matter-of-factly. “But their voices are a bit thin. When I sang those songs, my classmates would tell me that it doesn’t suit my style. ‘Why can’t a Chinese person sing Chinese songs?’ So I was really upset. But when I went to America, I discovered that jazz music really suited my voice. Beyond my expectations, they really liked my singing in English. They called me American Idol.”
Wang Feng says he likes Zheng’s singing style. “You don’t show off with vocal acrobatics.”
Zheng has to choose a mentor. There’s not much time left to the show.
“It’s just as Chyi Chin said earlier. He and my father aren’t that far apart in years, because my parents always tell me that Chyi Chin is their generation’s Prince of Love Songs.”
Na Ying grimaces.
“So you’ve made your choice,” remarks Yang Kun, the only judge to not turn for Zheng. Na Ying and Wang Feng get out of their chairs, defeated.
Zheng interjects, “Oh, no. I haven’t finished speaking yet.”
The judges laugh and sit back down. “Deep breaths,” says Yang Kun.
“Wang Feng, my mom really likes your song Beijing Beijing.”
“Thank you,” Wang Feng says sincerely.
“And Na Ying, my mom really likes your song Willing to Admit Defeat 愿赌服输.”
“Did you hear the song title?” Wang Feng points, laughing at Na Ying. “Admit defeat.”
“No, no,” Zheng protests, “The song title has nothing to do with it. My mom likes the song so much that she even dances to it in the public square. She always tells everyone to put it on repeat.”
Na Ying is embarrassed. “If you choose me, I’ll definitely tell her to choose a better song.” Zheng ultimately does choose Na Ying.
The episode ends with Na Ying having collected four protégés. Newcomer Chyi Chin has bagged three, while Wang Feng and Yang Kun both only have one each. They’ll have some catching up to do.
What was your favourite performance? Who is your favourite mentor? Let us know in the comments.
Watch the full Voice of China episode here.