SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A love for singing and a lust for stardom pushed 20-year-old Qian Yue to take a break from her university studies to learn music full time at the Lee Wei Song School of Music in Shanghai.
For almost a year, the cheerful Yunnan native from the southwestern city of Kunming has been taking a combination of voice, dancing, and keyboard lessons to fulfil her dream of becoming a singer, inspired by a recent flood of TV talent shows.
“I lived in a small place and I felt a lot of recognition when I participated in a few singing competitions,” Qian said.
“I watched those talent shows in the past and I always had a favorite contestant. So after a while I thought that was quite good and I wanted to give it a try myself.”
Talent shows have been the rage in China since the success of the “Super Girl” national singing competition organized by Hunan satellite television from 2004.
The musical talent show was basically a Chinese copy of the popular UK show “Pop Idol” and has since spun off other forms of singing and dancing competitions on local and national TV.
The music talent school offers a full time course for its “Asian Music Artist” class, with students taking in about four hours of different classes every day including voice training, studio recording, keyboard skills and dancing.
As Qian works hard with her vocals at the recording studio in the school, more than ten other students are spread out in classrooms throughout the day, picking up the necessary repertoire in their pursuit of becoming a music artist.
When she takes a break from the recording, her studio teacher reviews her singing and gives her tips on how to improve her vocal range, voice quality and emotional involvement in a song.
Chinese television has become more market-oriented in recent years and talent shows have helped push ratings to all-time highs despite criticism from government officials on the nature of such shows and their negative impact on society.
This year, Shanghai’s Dragon TV pushed its own “China’s Got Talent” show, the local version of the UK series “Britain’s Got Talent,” to the top of its audience ratings chart.
With the lure of stardom, many Chinese young people are starting to look at singing as a career option.
One is 21-year-old Ren He. Despite opposition from his parents, he closed the small restaurant he owned in his hometown of Tongliao, a city in northern Inner Mongolia, and took a big part of his savings to pay for his course at the school.
“Before I came here, I felt I sang quite well. After coming here and getting professional training, I found that I was such an amateur,” Ren said.
“After all, this is very professional training. I completely changed some of my methods and I have improved a lot.”
The full time course costs 24,000 yuan ($3,600) for half a year and is divided into junior and senior levels for a full two-year course.
The school was founded first in Singapore by local musician Lee Wei Song in 1995, and the Shanghai branch was opened in 2007. Lee and his twin brother Lee Shih Shiong are credited with being pioneers of the Singapore xinyao music movement, a local music movement with a focus on songs about life in Singapore.
Lee Wei Song’s school later became famous for grooming one of Singapore’s most famous singers, Stefanie Sun.
His school now hopes to unearth mainland China’s next singing superstar and expand its presence in other Chinese cities.
There are now more than a dozen similar professional singing schools in Shanghai alone, offering music courses to wannabe singers looking for a shot at fame.
Though TV talent shows have fueled the boom in these schools, they are actually a double-edged sword, said Ethan Han, manager for the Lee Wei Song School of Music.
“It’s a dilemma because talent shows give a quick shortcut out from our school. Some talent shows judge you on your image and general package, and you do not have to sing very well. So they are not choosing the best singer,” he said.
“We had a training class for contestants in a talent show in the past. It was for a month, they learn some things, they go compete and they stop studying here.”
Editing by Elaine Lies