The talent show formerly known as The Voice Of China has lost its spinning chairs, but not its sense of fun
The singing competition judged and coached by pop king Jay Chou and company has a new name now - and new chairs.
Following a split from Talpa Global, the Dutch owner of the Voice format which signed a new Chinese partner, the Zhejiang TV show is going by the name Sing! China.
The judges' spinning chairs are gone, replaced by moving car seats that whoosh down a slope in front of the stage and fall on an equally fine line between cool and goofy (congrats, Zhejiang TV!).
But as Shakespeare might say, "What's in a name? What's in a chair?" The show, by any other name and with any other chair, would be just as entertaining.
In fact, Sing! China is looser and funnier than The Voice Of China.
Although the show's legal trouble with Talpa Global is an elephant in the room, the judges don't avoid it entirely but jab at it for a laugh. Singer Na Ying brings up her track record of coaching contestants to victory and singer-songwriter Harlem Yu shoots her down naughtily, reminding her not to refer to some other show they used to be on.
Crucially, in its new incarnation, the show has kept its big-name cast (Chou, Yu, Na and rocker Wang Feng, also known as Mr Zhang Ziyi), its two-way concept (a coach and a contestant have to choose each other to team up) and, well, its voice.
Successful variety shows from Running Man to Mr Con & Ms Csi have distinctive voices: A certain sense of humour, sense of fun or mojo you can't find anywhere else.
After Chou joined The Voice Of China last year, the show, to some extent, became about him. How would he navigate a new phase in his career, as a judge and a would-be senior statesman of Mandopop? How would the other judges respond to Chou, the youngest person and biggest star on the panel?
Sing! China picks up the ball and runs further with it. Chou and the others are more relaxed around one another, and the banter, along with their jokey rivalry, is more brazen. Close your eyes and you could be listening to an episode of a riotous Taiwanese talk show of yesteryear.
When Chou brags that youth learn Chinese from his songs, Yu and Na laugh in his face. Yu yells: "Don't learn Chinese from Jay Chou, he slurs his words!"
Na agrees: "Till today, my son and my daughter don't understand the lyrics of Tornado."
Possibly taking a leaf out of Ms Csi host Dee Hsu's book, Na gets touchy-feely, asking to hug male contestants (including Nathan Hartono of Singapore) she is wooing to her team.
Chou gets cynical, switching allegiance from Na to Wang, who now sits closer to him, and kidding about sabotaging the other teams.
They are playing at being bad adults and a pretty good time is had by all.
Speaking of Hsu, she has moved on to greener pastures and fresher meat, months after the expiry of her cult Taiwanese chat show Mr Con & Ms Csi.
VIEW IT / SING! CHINA
Zhejiang TV Sing! China Official
For years, her thing was to be a bad host, one who would place pleasure before business and prefer groping male guests to talking to them.
Chinese video website iQiyi has now given her a supposed cooking programme, S-style Show, and props such as a remote-controlled chair to get down and dirty with actors such as Huang Bo and Aarif Rahman.
But the result, on the evidence of two episodes, is a show that feels at once stale and overcooked.
Because what Hsu needs is not props but her old on-screen partner, Kevin Tsai, as her foil. Her nonsense needs his sense to feel refreshing, just as molten chocolate cake needs ice cream.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'Sing! China still has mojo'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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