Popular Chinese reality show faces boycott for allegedly mistreating deceased pop star Coco Lee, manipulating results
Published: Aug 20, 2023 11:22 PM
Coco Lee on The Voice of China in December, 2012 Photo: VCG

Coco Lee on The Voice of China in December, 2012 Photo: VCG

The parent company of The Voice of China - a popular televised singing show - has found itself in hot water with mounting calls online to boycott the show after an audio clip went viral online that alleged the late pop singer Coco Lee, who was a mentor and guest on the show, was mistreated and revealed the chaos behind the scenes on these types of talent shows.

Challenged by criticism online, Zhejiang Media Group, the broadcaster of the show and the operator of Zhejiang Satellite TV, released an announcement on Sunday evening, saying that the Zhejiang Satellite TV has the responsibility and obligation to strengthen the show's supervision and fulfill its responsibilities as a broadcasting platform. Additionally, Zhejiang Media Group said it would urge the show's producer to listen to everyone's opinions carefully, and effectively maintain fairness and justice in the production of the program, so that every participant is respected.

The announcement noted that Coco Lee, a famous Chinese-American singer-songwriter, was one of the good mentors, good singers, worthy of people's memory.

The announcement came after a nine-minute audio clip went viral on Chinese social media platforms recently. The clip shows Lee asking why a contestant with higher marks faced elimination, while another contestant with lower marks was given a second chance during the show. Like the US show The Voice, the program is based on a hit Dutch series. 

In another video clip, she said she was told to leave the show by the director's two aides, who threatened to call security after she spoke out. She added that one of the women grabbed her shirt and tried to pull her offstage.

Lee attempted suicide at home on July 2 and remained unconscious after being admitted to the hospital. Despite tireless efforts of the medical team, she sadly passed away on July 5. Lee was unfortunately diagnosed with depression several years ago.

The official Sina Weibo account of The Voice of China released a statement on Thursday, saying that the audio in which Lee made accusations against the show before her passing had been maliciously edited.

With the latest incident continuing to ferment on the internet, the show's parent company Star CM Holdings saw its stock tumble by 23 percent on Friday, the most since its listing in December 2022. The drop wipes out about $1.5 billion in market value from the stock, which had more than quadrupled at its peak.

This is not the first time that the well-known variety show has suffered a crisis during its 12 years of history. The show has often been accompanied by controversy since its broadcast, and many instructors and contestants involved in the show have exposed mudslinging behind the scenes, and some even ended up bringing lawsuits.

A radio station in Changchun, Northeast China's Jilin Province, issued a statement on Saturday saying it would never cooperate with The Voice of China. This radio station had previously invited some good voice trainees to participate in its anniversary gala and sing at a celebration paying tribute to Coco Lee.

"Talent shows, including The Voice of China, need to be fair and just, otherwise it is manipulating the mentor and deceiving the audience," a netizen left the comment on Sina Weibo.

"I really admire Coco, such a person who truly loves music and pursues fairness without fear of power. I also hope that the country can further deal with the chaos in the entertainment industry," said another.

An employee surnamed Huang, who was involved in the production of variety shows at Tencent, told the Global Times on Sunday that the problems reflected in The Voice of China can be said to be common in the entertainment industry, and such packaging and creation of idols from the company to fans cannot be solved in a short period of time.

"With the strengthening of supervision from both the government and the public in recent years, the situation has significantly improved. The variety show I participated in before has also been suspended, and the company is further standardizing the operation of such shows," Huang noted.