SINGAPORE - How did 81 judges cast 92 votes in the Sing! China final on Friday (Oct 7) night?
That was the question that lit up social media in China and Singapore after Xinjiang's Jiang Dunhao, 21, won the talent competition, narrowly beating Singapore's Nathan Hartono, 25.
Six finalists were vying for first place at China's National Stadium in Beijing. In the first two rounds, all six performed with their mentors, followed by solos.
Voting by the audience determined the top two singers, who would go on to the third round.
After both performed their songs in the third round, the audience and a panel of 81 judges voted to determine the final winner. The votes by the audience and the judges will each make up 50 per cent of the final tally.
Jiang and Hartono were the last two standing in the third round. Hartono performed a mash up of two songs - Moonlight in the City by Singaporean crooner Mavis Hee and Woman Flower by Hong Kong legend Anita Mui.
Jiang sang Window, a ballad by his mentor Chinese rock star Wang Feng. Hartono's mentor is Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou.
During the vote, the judges, said to be industry and media professionals, were invited on stage to drop their vote in two ballot boxes. The boxes scanned each vote cast and the vote count was updated 'live' on a large screen.
Hartono led at first, but Jiang caught up, and they were neck and neck as the vote tally reached 81. But the numbers continued to go up.
Despite the host repeating multiple times during the show that there were 81 judges, Jiang won with 47 votes to Hartono's 45 - a total of 92 votes.
Jiang also got more spectator votes - 59,852 to Hartono's 45,613.
It was a surprise win as Hartono, who goes by his Chinese name Xiang Yang in the show, was one of the favourites going into the final. His score in the semi-final on Sept 30 was the highest among the finalists.
Another singer, Xu Geyang, was also tipped to win but was eliminated in the second round.
One Chinese netizen called the voting "a comedy", another said "we are not blind". One netizen commented: "Do you think we don't know maths?".
Some speculated that the contest was rigged, while others questioned if there was a glitch in the voting apparatus.
In Singapore, support for the home-grown singer was strong.
"Nathan Hartono is already a winner! It's 100% certain that he'll be singing the 2017 NDP song!" said Singaporean poet Gwee Li Sui.
Many noted that no foreigner has ever won on the show.
Said prominent blogger Mr Brown: "Nathan Hartono, you may have come in second in the Sing! China contest but you are first in our hearts!
"How come got 81 judges and then the number of votes is 45 vs 47 leh? 45+47 is 92 leh. Kelong issit?"
It was also caught on camera that the last vote cast for Jiang registered as two votes, Lianhe Zaobao reported.
There was even a parody of the puzzling result posted by SGAG.
Hartono's mentor Chou said in an interview after the competition that he was pleased with all aspects of the show, but joked that the weather was "too cold".
"The media were dizzy from the cold, so maybe they voted wrongly," Sina.com reported him as saying.
Both Hartono and Jiang graciously accepted the result.
Hartono told The Straits Times that he was not disappointed at being the runner up.
"I'm not sure how it showed up on TV. But did you see how I was smiling the whole way through when they were counting the votes? I'm just very happy that I got to sing the third song," he said in a post-competition interview.
Jiang, in an interview with Sina.com, said that he was just "dazed" after his win, and he expected either Hartono or Xu to be the champion.
He also told Sina that there was much he could learn from Hartono.
In response to Sina's question on whether the result was rigged because he has signed a contract with Star China, the producer of the talent show, he said: "Yes, the company has given me a contract. To me, a boy from a Xinjiang border town, there was nothing shady. I had nothing. To get where I am today, besides my hard work, and my mentor's help, a large part was due to luck."
On Saturday morning, Hartono posted a photo of Jiang and himself on micro-blogging site weibo with this message: "You're the best. Finally, a chance to share the stage with you!! Go all the way brother."
"Everybody has been asking me about my feelings towards the results. Well here they are: in short, I'm not bothered one bit. I couldn't have been happier to even be included in the finals. To then compete in the top two? That's just insane," he wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon.