Asian stars go overseas in search of fame

Like many Chinese girls her age, Qi Ji enjoys singing and dancing and dreams of becoming a star. But rather than trying to make a start in vast and crowded China, she is pinning her hopes on Taiwan.

The 18-year-old is the first of many Chinese contestants expected to enter a Taiwanese reality show aimed at creating a girl band that producers hope can rival supergroups such as Japan's AKB48 or South Korea's Girls' Generation.

With such televised contests now a major part of the global music industry, in Asia they are spurring a migration of talent between countries as performers and producers look to crack domestic, regional and global markets.

For Qi, who grew up in northeast China and attended a performing art school in Beijing, this could offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a fast track to stardom in China's market of 1.3 billion people -- and perhaps beyond.

"Many young Chinese people like me dream of becoming a star," Qi told AFP prior to a recording session for "Asian Idol Group Competition" aired in mid-May.

"I hope to start in Taiwan and eventually have a career both here and in China."

Growing numbers of young Chinese performers are coming to Taiwan in search of a big break, reversing a trend that saw famous Taiwanese performers such as A-Mei and Jay Chou focus on China.

The show's producer Lee Fang-ju, the mastermind behind reality shows both in his native Taiwan and in China, is holding auditions in several major Chinese cities this summer to select more contestants to come to Taipei.

"Taiwan has a special allure as many young Chinese idolise Taiwanese singers. They think that making a mark here could turn them into pop divas such as Taiwan's Jolin Tsai and Elva Hsiao," Lee said.

"We hope to combine Taiwan and China's strength to create a pop idol group so that our idols won't be replaced by the Japanese or South Koreans," he said.

The most successful case so far is arguably Hu Xia, a 22-year-old from Guangxi in southwestern China, who was signed by Sony Music Taiwan after winning the "One Million Star" singing contest in 2010.

His latest record "Flame of Love" hit number one on Taiwan's G-Music chart in March.

"Winning a title in Taiwan is a big boost for a young Chinese performer since it has a leading role in Mandarin pop music," said Hsieh Tsung-han, a music producer and lecturer at China University of Technology in Taipei.

A-list Entertainment, which is based in Taipei and offers courses for those aspiring to become singers, models and show hosts, is meanwhile getting plenty of interest from China.

Last year, it recruited about 100 Chinese nationals aged between 14 and 35 from as far as Mongolia to take performing lessons in Taiwan for an eight-day programme at a cost of 15,000 Chinese yuan ($2,380).

"Many Chinese youth follow Taiwan's TV programmes closely and they are attracted by Taiwan's colourful, diverse and free entertainment scene," said A-list publicity officer Stella Teng.

"China is huge and so you are less likely to get discovered."

While many Chinese acts look to get noticed in smaller markets first, one English-speaking Asian act has looked to use their ethnicity to do the reverse and crack the United States -- despite a history of such attempts falling flat. "Blush" is made up of five women from the Philippines, India, China, Japan and South Korea who beat hundreds of other pop star wannabes during a talent search across Asia in 2010 called "Project Lotus".

Based in both Hong Kong and the US, Blush have opened for Justin Bieber on the Hong Kong leg of his 2011 tour, recorded with US hip hop star Snoop Dogg and are supported by an A-List of Los Angeles-based producers who have worked with the likes of Lady Gaga and Beyonce.

"Asian singers have not crossed over although many attempts have been made," said Project Lotus producer and Blush manager Jon Niermann in Los Angeles.

"What we've tried to do is take artists from the region, but develop them in a very western style with western producers, western songs and a western way of sound and that's what is helping give Blush the recognition and some initial success."

In February the band's single "Dance On" hit number one on the Billboard dance club chart, above Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson. The band's debut EP "The Undivided" was released in May.

"We're in it for the long run and we are serious about our music," said Blush's Victoria Chan, who is the band's Chinese member. "We have been waiting for this for a long time."

"You lead with the music and the rest of it becomes a public relations angle as to who this group is to set them apart, which is important," said Niermann. "But it ultimately comes down to talent.

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