Malaysian singer Jess Lee gasps in surprise as television personality, Rolling Wang (not to be confused with annoying viral chicken video songstress Rollin Wang), rolls into her hotel room with a breakfast cart adorned with breads, milk and fruit. Her eyes remain fixed on the food as he greets her and wishes her a happy new year.
Li Jian and his manager, Shen Mengchen, are the first to arrive on the I Am A Singer set. He flicks on the TV to inspect the competition. “Jess Lee,” Shen muses, tapping the remote to reveal her song choice. “Suffering.”
“I’ve never heard that song before,” admits Li Jian. “Have you?”
“No, I haven’t. Let’s put it on now.”
This isn’t the first time a Chinese celebrity has claimed not to know Jess Lee.
Some of the contestants are taking naps on their sofas. Li Jian and The One, too tall for the furniture, dangle their limbs off the side. Han Hong fits snuggly within the arm rests.
Bonds 尘缘 by Roman Tam
Li Jian is looking rather snazzy. He’s wearing a charcoal suit with a purple crew-neck tee and pocket square. And a watch on his right hand, oddly enough. I am totally going to steal this look for my next business casual event (I think this qualifies as business casual).
Li Jian’s performances tend to be very hit or miss. This one’s a miss. It’s slow, with no real musical or vocal climax. And that’s typical Li Jian. But it doesn’t have that unique “oomph” that makes Li Jian’s good performances good. His better songs usually come when they’re less piano-driven. Unfortunately, this one is super pianoed-up. It’s altogether a bit dull.
Hey, there’s a Caucasian dude watching the show. I bet we’ll be seeing a lot of him tonight.
Never Look Back 永远不回头 by Tom Chang, Dave Wong, Jack Yao and Samuel Tai
I don’t mean to begin every critique by commenting on the contestants’ clothing, but… leather pants? Remember when Ross wore leather pants, and they were so tight that he couldn’t get them back on?
Sun Nan doesn’t have that problem. His legs are so skinny that his tight leather pants aren’t actually all that tight. In fact, they sag a little at the calves.
Leather pants. Long-haired guitarists. I wonder what musical genre Sun Nan will be delving into tonight.
Never Look Back is the theme to the Taiwanese movie Seven Foxes 七匹狼 (I don’t know why they went with “foxes” in the English title either). And it’s actually not a bad choice. Sun Nan’s nasal singing complements the 80s rock song surprisingly well, and it’s a welcome burst of energy after Li Jian’s muted performance.
Oh, Li Jian took off his jacket. The outfit doesn’t work so well without the jacket. I might have to rethink my wardrobe plans. What if it gets warm?
Sun Nan’s last few notes seem to be an attempt to brandish the rock credentials he doesn’t really have, but there’s a noticeable shift in tonal quality as his voice suddenly goes from a sharp nasal to a full, open-throated belt. It’s a lot better. Even Han Hong gives a surprised “wow.”
And our favourite white audience member makes another appearance.
Kangding Love Song 康定情歌
After singing A-mei songs two weeks in a row, Tan Weiwei is going back to her folk roots with Kangding Love Song. I wonder if A-mei recorded this song early in her career, or anything like that…
What’s your game, Tan Wei-A-mei?
Tan Weiwei has invited three folk singers of different ethnicities to perform with her, like some Power Rangers of Chinese singing. Tibetan Tashi Nyima, who Tan Weiwei has performed with before, is the most prominent of the three, while the other two singers are from the Qiang and Yi ethnic groups.
The cowboy-hatted Tibetan sings first in a melismatic a capella. “Tashi Nyima,” Han Hong says in recognition. Tan Weiwei responds with vocal acrobatics of her own, climbing into the sixth octave to give us what might be highest note of the competition so far. And so it continues with the Qiang and Yi singers before Tan Weiwei launches into the song itself. It’s a much rockier arrangement, and not at all like the original folk version, or the awful folk-techno version she recorded years ago. We get a shot of our token white guy mouthing the words.
I Am A Singer’s resident Tibetan seems impressed. On the other hand, Jess Lee, who also studied Chinese folk singing, looks perplexed. Growing up in Malaysia, Jess was taught folk singing by her singing teacher, but was told she couldn’t sing both pop and Chinese folk because the styles were too incompatible. She ended up choosing pop, but I wonder what she thinks of singers like Tan Weiwei who incorporate both styles in their music, and do it really well.
After having belted out half the song, the ending is oddly subdued.
“Stainless steel lungs,” Li Jian says, referencing the “iron lungs” trope used to describe powerhouse vocals in Chinese.
“Better than stainless steel,” Shen Mengchen adds.
The One muses at the musical performers Tan Weiwei has invited onto the stage. “I should bring my band in to China to perform,” he says. “But my band doesn’t have so many people.”
All of Me by John Legend
Remember when, way back in the very first episode, I predicted that Jane Zhang would wear something by Tony Ward? Yep, I totally called it.
Jane Zhang was eliminated last week, but is back for her encore performance. Xiao Wu thinks she looks like a mermaid. A mermaid who’s getting married, maybe.
Token is getting a lot of screen time. He’s apparently an English teacher in Chengdu, so it’s all very Jane-related.
Jane sings with effortless nuance. Her big notes smoothly dissipate into more subtle ones. Han Hong does it well too, but she doesn’t make it seem as easy as Jane does. It’s a good performance. Maybe if Jane had chosen songs like this before, she wouldn’t have been eliminated.
Sun Nan says Jane is a leader in the new generation of female singers in China. She is, of course, but you can’t help but wonder where G.E.M fits into all this.
Hometown Clouds 故乡的云 by Kris Phillips
After seeing Jane eliminated with a Kris Phillips song last week, Han Hong is attempting a Kris Phillips song of her own. Not sure that that’s the smartest thing to do. Jin Wulin, who was Sun Nan’s musical partner in Celebrity Battle 全能星戰, has defected to arrange the song for Han Hong. He’s the guy watching from the sidelines, expressionless behind orange aviators. He’s a pretty big name in Chinese rock. Another not-quite-Cui Jian pioneer of Chinese rock, Wang Yong, is on guzheng. He’s worked with Cui Jian before, if that’s any consolation.
Remember when I compared Han Hong to Celine Dion? It’s vocal performances like this that really sell it. Her voice is pure and dignified, while her high notes resonate with a piercing quality.
The last minute of the song introduces traditional Chinese instruments, which is nice, because those guys have been standing on stage doing nothing for five minutes now. Next to Wang Yong’s guzheng, there’s an erhu, dizi, a couple of suona, and two giant drums. The suona is an underrated instrument. It makes anything sound like a celebration. Han Hong has her on take on folk singing, and it sounds like it could be an ending theme to the next Kung Fu Panda sequel. It’s the best zhongguofeng performance I’ve heard in a long while.
In the green room, Tan Weiwei claps along with the other singers, but she does not look impressed.
Token only makes a brief appearance here. But he is here.
Love Your Destiny 愛你的宿命 by Jeff Chang
My Destiny by Lyn
I’ll admit, I don’t love this song. In fact, I really don’t like it. And I’ll tell you why.
When My Love From the Star 별에서 온 그대 was having its original run on TV, they would play little snippets of it during commercial breaks. A few seconds at most. And the theme song would play over it. Not the entire theme song, of course, just the “you are my destiny” part. That one, inescapable line, over and over again. It’d play outside, stalking me in restaurants and convenience stores and at the subway station.
Before the performance, Kim Soo-hyun appears in a video to wish everyone good luck. Thanks, Kim Soo-hyun!
The One sings it decently, beginning with the Mandarin version of the song before switching to Korean. His Chinese is very soft, and it’s sometimes hard to make out the words, but at least he’s trying. He fumbles at the line “you are the one my love” in English. Which is weird because that is his name, after all.
After the performance, the other singers discuss the merits of having international artists on the show. “It’s like a Grammy Awards for Asia,” comes one suggestion. “Next season, I think we’ll even have a singer from Australia.” Like… Kimberley Chen? Oh! Dami Im?
When I Think of You 一想到你呀 by A-mei
The performance begins with traditional-garbed A-Lin and her barefoot musical guests singing Sapiliepah a Radiw, an Amis drinking song. As the music plays, Han Hong claps excitedly, while Tan Weiwei gives the same look she perturbed look she gave Han Hong. She’s probably worried that her ethnic experiment won’t stand out. It’s all very colourful.
A-Lin tells us that, as a child, her parents opposed her singing. So, as revenge (seemingly), she’s brought her parents onto the show as props. They dance awkwardly in the background and pretend to sing while A-Lin points to them on occasion. The chants transition to an upbeat, poppy version of A-mei’s When I Think of You. A-Lin dances for the first time on the show and she owns the stage. It’s natural and fluid, and there’s no hint of it being overly choreographed. A-Lin, who is turning 32 this year, appears much younger than she is. She’s older than Jane, but you wouldn’t think so comparing their performances tonight.
We get a glimpse of Token “dancing” along to the song. It’s a joyous performance that makes us forget that this is a competition. It’s all good fun.
Earlier in the show, Jess spoke about how she has followed I Am A Singer from the very first season, and had always hoped to be able to join one day. To feed her addiction to singing competitions, probably. Let’s recount all the shows she’s been on.
- Malaysian Idol Season 1
- Malaysian Idol Season 2
- Astro Star Quest
- One Million Star
- The X Factor: China
- Mad For Music
- And now, I Am A Singer.
She’s quite junkie.
I’m not sure that this arrangement works. It begins sounding rather epic, like we’re about to fight the final boss in a 50-hour role-playing game. But then it stops. And Jess continues singing the song very closely to her original recorded version. And then she stops. There’s a musical interlude, but it sounds like a completely different song. It’s more of an interruption than an interlude.
We get to the climax, and it’s a good one, but now the rest of the song seems like a wasted opportunity. I wish this had been a bit… more. A choir would have helped.
Later, Jess goes to meet all the other singers. She tells Han Hong that, when she was learning how to sing folk songs, she tried to emulate her. “Really?” Han Hong asks, pleasantly surprised, before Jess breaks into a line of Han Hong’s Heavenly Road 天路. Everybody claps.
1. Tan Weiwei
2. Han Hong/The One [TIE]
5. Jess Lee [DID NOT ADVANCE]
6. Li Jian
7. Sun Nan
We have our first tie in the show’s run. It’s pretty quirky, but doesn’t really change the outcome. Jess Lee, who needed a fourth-or-better place to stay on I Am A Singer is sadly booted from the competition, which means we’ll be seeing someone new on the next episode. Despite earlier rumours of the challenger being Della, we should be seeing Taiwanese singer Ricky Hsiao in a few days.
Jess will still have another chance the join the competition in the comeback round, though rumours suggest that Jane Zhang will not be participating…
Watch the full episode here.