It has been almost 10 years since reality television singing competitions such as Pop Idol, American Idol and The X Factor became popular worldwide. The first similar show in China that created a massive trend was Super Girl, which started airing on Hunan Television in 2005.
With upwards of a hundred talent-based reality programs created worldwide every year, many think the appeal of talent-based programs has come to an end. But The Voice seems to have brought back the trend, proven by its success in over 10 countries across the globe. The Voice of China will air on Zhejiang Satellite Television this Friday.
The Voice, an international franchise, offers a special selling point for audiences - blind auditions, where judges do not see the singer. Judges express interest in the contestants they would like to coach by turning their chair around to face them. If more than one judge turns, the contestant has the ability to select his choice of coach.
Imported reality programs such as China's Got Talent and The Cube, both originating from the UK, can hardly keep the attention of audiences for more than one season.
With the high profile of copycat versions of The Voice, some doubt whether the Chinese show will be received with the same acclaim as in other countries.
The Voice franchise started in the Netherlands, where it was called The Voice of Holland. It has been sold to more than 10 countries including the UK, Australia, South Korea and the US. The franchise includes the production chain, from the program's pre-production branding, marketing to its post-production.
In June, three members from the production team of The Voice of Holland came to China to advise the Chinese committee on the show. Promotional designs, mentors, competing methods and other details were discussed among the two teams. To remain faithful to the original program, even the swivel chairs were shipped from the Netherlands to China.
"We spent three days selecting our mentors," said the promotion director of The Voice of China, who wished to be identified by his surname, Lu.
The production team originally wanted to seek out household names like Jay Chou, Eason Chan and Jacky Cheung, but scheduling was a problem for many of the big stars.
Liu Huan, Na Ying, Yang Kun and Harlem Yu from Taiwan are the four chosen mentors.
The criteria for the mentors are the same in every country, often including an influential figure in the music industry, a grass-roots singer, one to attract young audiences and one female.
The four mentors in the US version of The Voice reflect this: Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levin and Blake Shelton.
The blind audition separates The Voice from other similar programs. As titles like The X Factor or Idol suggest, talent shows usually try to find someone with the "whole package."
For this program, Lu said that mentors will have to consider not only the quality and potential of a voice but also the song choices.
"Each mentor can only select 12 [contestants to mentor]. If a contestant sings a mentor's song, we will guess he may choose that person... The results often surprise everyone," said Lu.
Another key characteristic of this show is the emphasis on professional training. Besides talent and hard work, learning ability and emotional capability are vital. After the blind audition, mentors will give their trainees one-month of intensive training and then pair them up for further competition.
For mentors to attract the best trainees, they must invite industry experts to train the contestants and attend concerts and other targeted events.
"Becoming a superstar is not only about talent. It involves a whole process," said Lu.
The Chinese production team held many promotional meetings in different cities in China with performances from a number of invited singers. The Voice of China refuses to be labeled as a "talent show." Instead, it prefers to be identified as "a music critic program."
"Real music and voices are what we aim for," said Lu. "The Chinese production team promotes not only the mentors and participants but also the performing band and recording director."
Moreover, the ambition of the production team is not limited to the show. The Chinese producers see a long-term run for the business. They plan to cooperate with China Mobile. After original songs are aired on the program, audiences will be able to download the songs through the platform provided by China Mobile.
"The music industry is experiencing a tough time now. Sales of CDs and albums do not guarantee a singer's survival. But for new upcoming talents, [downloads] of their songs are guaranteed," said Lu.
In The Voice of America, the public influences the result of participants by the number of downloads. But Lu said they will not adopt this method.
"The winner will be selected by the judges but we will consider the needs of the market in addition to the competition results," said Lu.
He said that the judges' selection is subjective, but the development of each winner depends on the market.
Sun Yuanyuan, a professor in vocal opera at Central Conservatory of Music likens a person's voice to an instrument. She said the quality and characteristic of a voice is important.
Nevertheless, students with imperfect voices but a solid understanding of lyrics, a sensitivity to music and an ability to materialize suggestions from a mentor have the potential to become superstars. These factors will influence the result of the training process.
Sun views the intensive training as an introduction to the rules and concepts of singing.
Sun said talent-based reality shows focus on performances that entertain the audience. They are not comparable to professional international singing competitions, where the judges set detailed requirements on the singer's singing techniques.