I Am A Singer semifinals: Shining favourites, MH370 conspiracies and angry Malaysians

Hunan TV's I Am A Singer topped the ratings last night, beating out rival singing contest, Sing My Song, and a really cool scientific game show.

Hunan TV’s I Am A Singer topped the ratings last night, beating out rival singing contest, Sing My Song, and a really cool scientific game show.

I Am A Singer 我是歌手 drew one step closer to crowning its second season champion as the hit show’s semifinal aired last night. And while the performance results mostly mirrored the trends of previous weeks, Malaysian fans quickly took to social media to voice their discontent over Shila Amzah’s anomalous sixth place showing. Some questioned whether her low score was the result of Chinese backlash over the Malaysian government’s handling of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 investigation. More on that later.

Chinese reality singing contests often follow unconventional formats compared to their international counterparts. So if you’re confused as to how someone actually wins this show, or why a previously eliminated contestant is back on stage, here’s a quick guide. But if you’ve been following the show and just want to watch the videos and read some rants and reviews, feel free to skip ahead!

The contestants perform each week before a studio audience who then vote for their favourite performance. The singer with the lowest votes is eliminated, and a new singer is brought in the following week to replace the eliminated contestant. This was the usual format for several weeks.

In last week’s episode, the eliminated contestants and their replacements were given a chance to rejoin the competition. The top three performers that week, Shila, Zhang Jie, and Gary, then joined the singers who had never faced elimination in the semifinal.

Other than that, last night’s show was the first to really matter. The ultimate winner is determined by the scores received in both this semifinal and the final episode. However, the semifinal scores only count for 30% of this total, so a contestant who does poorly in the semifinal round can still make up for it in the finale. The final episode will see all seven contestants perform duets for another 30%. The five highest combined scores will progress solo to the final round, worth the remaining 40%. The singer with the highest total score at the end of this round will win the championship.

And now you’re all caught up!


Shila Amzah
Onion 洋葱 by Aska Yang 杨宗纬
Rank: 6

In light of her sixth-placed showing, Shila fans have wondered whether discontent over the Malaysian government’s handling of the MH370 flight investigation may have influenced the vote. It’s not implausible. And something similar has before. The 2012 cross-continental Asian Wave 声动亚洲 singing contest which launched Shila’s Chinese career coincided with the Japanese government’s nationalisation of the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and the 81st anniversary of the Mukden Incident. During the wave of anti-Japanese protests in China, the Japanese finalists on the show were asked to leave, ostensibly for safety reasons, paving the way to Shila’s victory. With that being said, without the detailed score distribution, any speculation on the matter would just be conjecture.

Into the final…

Advantages:
Shila is a reality singing contest veteran, the champion of Asian Wave and runner-up of One In A Million. She has the experience and knows how to deal with the pressure of a grand finale. Despite recent events, Shila remains legitimately popular in China and has a solid fanbase. Rumours suggest that the immensely popular Wang Leehom 王力宏 will be Shila’s duet partner next week, boosting her prospects of making the top five.

Disadvantages:
The language barrier is a major hindrance. Shila’s pronunciation was shaky in this performance. Shila has admitted that learning songs in Chinese is difficult for her and, for next week, she’ll have to learn two.
Coming sixth also means she’ll have to score exceptionally well to have a chance of winning.

Chances of winning:
About as likely as getting an accidental curly fry in with a batch of regular cut fries. It doesn’t happen very often, but you know that it’s a possibility because it’s happened to you before.


G.E.M 邓诗颖
You’re Not Really Happy 你不是真正的快乐 by Mayday 五月天
Rank: 2

G.E.M, along with Han Lei, is a heavy favourite to take out the entire competition. G.E.M has come first four times in the eleven weeks she’s competed, and second place another four times, making her the most successful competitor in the field. That high note near the end? An Eb6.

Advantages:
G.E.M has worked with producer Lupo Groinig continuously and almost exclusively since the start of her career, and Lupo continues to be her musical arranger on the show. Lupo is like the Timbaland to G.E.M’s Missy Elliott. He knows her strengths and weakness and can tailor a song to perfectly her abilities. None of the other artists have that level of collaboration with their arrangers, with arrangers often changing each week and occasionally dividing their attention between two contestants. G.E.M is the strong favourite to win I Am A Singer.

Disadvantages:
G.E.M’s main competition is 46-year-old Han Lei. Traditionally, Chinese audiences have been reluctant to award victories to younger talents over their elders. At 22, G.E.M is also the youngest singer in the competition.

Chances of winning:
About the same as Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016.


Zhang Jie 张杰
Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars
Rank: 3

As long as we’re entertaining conspiracy theories, vocally, this performance didn’t deserve third place. An awkward a capella group, a quasi-Michael Jackson dance. Chinese audiences aren’t the best when it comes to evaluating English songs.

Advantages:
Coming third in the semifinal puts Zhang Jie in a comfortable position leading up to the finals. He has come first once before, so it’s not out of the question for him to do it again.

Disadvantages:
Zhang Jie and Gary share similar vocal styles. He was brought in the replace Gary, after all. They even sang a song together once. But now that they’re both in the competition together, being too similar might mean splitting the vote.

Chances of winning:
About as likely as an emu beating an ostrich in a race.


Han Lei 韩磊
In that Distant Place 在那遥远的地方
Rank: 1

This song is actually an adaption of a Kazakh folk song, and Han Lei is known for incoporating elements of his Mongolian heritage into his music, so it is a bit unusual to hear the sitar solo in this arrangement. Nonetheless, this performance scored Han Lei his fourth victory, equaling G.E.M’s record number of wins. Han Lei is a strong contender to take the I Am A Singer crown.

Advantages:
There’s a lot of momentum behind a first place win. If he can carry that forward, he could very well win the whole thing. Han Lei is the most experienced singer in the competition with a career spanning over 20 years. He’s an expert at working the crowd, which is vital when the votes are coming from a studio audience. As well as being a singer, Han Lei a skilled musician, often involving himself in the musical arrangements.

Disadvantages:
Han Lei’s closest rival in G.E.M has youth on her side. And while he has been successful with folk songs in the past, Han Lei might have to put out something more contemporary to broaden his appeal. He is by no means bad with pop music, but the finale is a risky time to experiment outside one’s comfort zone.
Interestingly, another 46-year-old tenor, Terry Lin, came second in the inaugural season of I Am A Singer.

Chances of winning:
About the same as successfully plugging in a USB cable on the first try. Oh, sure, it seems like a 50-50 shot, but how often does it happen?


Bibi Zhou 周笔畅
Wings of Light 光之翼 by Faye Wong 王菲
Rank: 5

Bibi pulls out a megaphone in this one and tries her hand at the theremin as well. This performance earned the former Super Girl fifth place.

Advantages:
Rumours suggest that Bibi will bring a fellow Super Girl for her duet performance, with Li Yuchun 李宇春 and Jane Zhang 张靓颖 most frequently mentioned. Either one of these two could provide Bibi a strong popularity boost, at least enough to get her into the solo round. Bibi is also somewhat of a dark horse, being the only other female singer besides G.E.M to have lasted the entire length of the competition.

Disadvantages:
Bibi has never come first in any competition week, so history is not on her side (though she has come second twice), and She’s come last on two occasions. Her fifth place score in the semifinal means she’ll have to perform exceptionally well to win the contest.

Chances of winning:
About as likely as a Destiny’s Child reunion within the next five years. It not impossible, but unless Beyoncé’s career fails, it’s probably not going to happen. Bibi is like the Michelle of the group.


Gary Chaw
Saving All My Love for You by Whitney Houston
Rank: 4

Gary sang another Whitney Houston classic in his encore performance two months ago. He didn’t diverge much from that route this week and came middle-of-the-pack fourth. There hasn’t been as much controversy about Gary’s Malaysianness as there has been with Shila. But that’s probably because fourth place isn’t so bad.

Advantages:
Gary is arguably the best technical vocalist on the show. His voice is his instrument and he knows how to use it.

Disadvantages:
Gary was the first contestant to be eliminated and only returned to the stage last week after a seven week absence, so he doesn’t have much momentum to carry him through to the finals. Of all the contestants, Gary has spent the least amount of time on the show, so he hasn’t had much time to build up a consistent fan base either. Despite his vocal talents, Chinese audiences seem indifferent towards his musical style.

Chances of winning:
The same as getting two sodas from a vending machine when you only paid for one. Maybe it’s never happened to you… but you’ve heard stories of it happening.


Phil Chang 张宇
Tears of a 20 year old 二十岁的眼泪 by Bobby Chen 陈升
Rank: 7

Okay, let’s face it, Phil Chang is not going to win this show. He came seventh place with this performance, marking the second time he has taken the last position.

Advantages:
Phil is part of the original line-up, and has never faced elimination.

Disadvantages:
He’s just not very popular. His record reads like a string of fifth and sixth placings. He has come fourth twice, never having broken into the top three.

Chances of winning:
As likely as Jurassic Park being real. That’s depressing to say because I really wish Jurassic Park were real… (this doesn’t count).


Finale predictions:
1. G.E.M (average rank: 2.36)
2. Han Lei (average rank: 2.73)
3. Shila Amzah (average rank: 3.12)
4. Bibi Zhou (average rank: 4.45)
5. Zhang Jie (average rank: 3.2)
6. Gary Chaw (average rank: 4.5)
7. Phil Chang (average rank: 5.64)
(But I’m probably completely wrong.)

Who are your favourites? Who do you think is going to win? Which dinosaurs would you clone if you were an eccentric billionaire hoping to create a dinosaur theme park? Let us know in the comments~!

17 thoughts on “I Am A Singer semifinals: Shining favourites, MH370 conspiracies and angry Malaysians

  1. Why should have round one and two in the finale of l am a singer ? Just dont make sense !! The only seven semi finalist should contest in the final round . CAN’ T UNDERSTAND AT ALL . MAY BE THAT IS THEIR SYSTEM.

    • The first season had a similar format, but all seven singers progressed to the final-final round instead of just five. There were issues with the show going overtime because the finale was broadcast live (the episode lasted four hours), so they had to shorten it for this year’s finale. That meant taping the first segment ahead of time, and then cutting out two performances for the live portion of the finale.
      Super Girls was cancelled after its finale ran long in 2011, so the I Am A Singer crew were probably being extra cautious on this one.

  2. I haven’t been following this season as closely as last season, but just listening to Shila’s Onion, I think her 6th place is not too surprising. The performance was pretty forgettable and unimpressive, for a song that can easily shine if sung well. The lyrics speak of a wary soul used to self-protection, but asking for someone to shed his/her layers to get to know the true him/her. It requires a lot of emotional subtlety and careful layering to be able to tell that story, and Shila’s version just sounded like a bunch of high notes, belting, and technical showoff that lost the heart of the song. My favorite is still Ping An’s version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EZU6tRgR-E.

    I hear online that she might sing 青藏高原 next time? I really she won’t, for her own sake. It’s such a well-known song that it takes a LOT to impress, especially this far into the game. Without a truly outstanding musical arrangement as well as vocal performance, I feel like this song would actually drag her down rather than help her. The amount of depth necessary to convey the emotions carried by the song is pretty much impossible for her given her young age and cultural background, without proper exposure to Tibetan culture and the land itself.

    GEM has been a great breath of fresh air. I would still bet on Han Lei though. I LOVED this performance. As someone who grew up listening to these folk songs and sang along with the rest of the audience, I loved the innovation in music arrangement and performance style he put in. It makes such a fresh and awesome twist on an old classic, and the sitar was an awesome addition as well.

    At the end of the day, they are all awesome singers. They’ve all got established careers to prove it. What it takes to win here is constant innovation and ability to brave yourself for breakthroughs and impress what I consider a pretty tough audience.

    • Yeah, Shila doesn’t have the vocal chops to pull off 青藏高原. The song itself is like the “I Will Always Love You” of Chinese music. Everybody knows it, and everyone is just waiting for that one big note that can make or break the performance. Shila just doesn’t have the range for it. And even then, I don’t think the musical style really suits her either. She should sing something more contemporary that suits her voice.

  3. If I had to bet, I’d be placing my money on Han Lei. Even though I am completely not his demographic audience, I have been finding his folk song performances very nice to listen to (especially this weeks song – I loved it!).

    Although saying that, GEM also has a big chance of winning. She has the vocals, the talent and tries new things. It’s funny how, if you compare to the first episode, no one knew who she was and now she is probably the hottest rising star in China at the moment.

  4. I’ve been watching the performances on and off, I think the elimination every two episodes takes some of the edge. I don’t know whether BiBi would’ve survived the whole competition without it or if she made it an intentional choice to do what she wanted when she didn’t have the chance to be cut. Chinese rules confuse me so much. lol

    What I noticed, at least from the comments on YouTube, is that BiBi has a lot gender-conformists whose only opinion of her is that she looks like a man. I’ve been a fan since 2008 and I’ve always thought her styling was a little peculiar, but I always went back to her voice.

    And even though Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies, I think it created a trauma so that I wouldn’t consider stepping on a park with real-life dinosaurs brought to life in fear that something like the movie would happen. Ah-ah-ah, you didn’t say the magic word.

    • I feel like Bibi is totally underrated in this competition. Whereas I more or less agreed with the voting last season (with the exception of Zhou Xiao’ou, who I often feel like was underscored), I feel like I don’t really understand the voting at all this season.
      Whereas most of the performances this season have been too “safe” and makes me want to fast-forward, I actually liked a lot of Bibi’s performances. At least for the past two episodes (skipping the re-competition), I feel like she should have been the top two if not one.

      • Totally agree. She really changes the songs she sings until they’re super different from the originals and makes them her own, and she’s consistently outside of her comfort zone. Definitely underrated.
        Also, the YT comments are always so awful to her. They always pit her against GEM, when it’s obvious the two of them are doing completely different things.

      • From all the music competitions, I’ve never really agreed with voting. haha, the one reason why I try to avoid them xD Happens to me with The Voice of China too. Someone sings a great low-key song, and people complain they’re not belting high notes, and when they belt high notes, people complain the only thing they can do is belt high notes. I just don’t understand people.

      • I agree with you. Bibi is underrated. The system they adopted for the final contest l totally don’t agree.

  5. My favorite has been Bibi–she consistently pushes the envelope with her songs, and any time she sings a ballad she infuses so much emotion into it that I pretty much want to cry. I don’t think she’ll win, though, because she doesn’t really belt high notes. She doesn’t seem to think she’ll win either, and one of the judges said that she knows how to get votes, she just doesn’t choose to perform that way.
    I totally love her.
    Also, she and Sun Jian are adorable.

    • Isn’t it funny that her ballads have been the lowest ranked? I always liked her better in those than when she does up-beat songs that get the studio crowd off their seats.

      • Same here! Especially with 哭了and 慢慢. Those were like…there was honest emotional strain in her voice.

        • Yeah! And with 哭了 they were all ugly-crying, that’s a full-on raw and naked performance that didn’t need any extra flare.

          • Ah, yes, the ugly cries. It was beautiful. 时间都去哪儿了also generated many ugly cries. She actually placed in the top three that time, though. Probably because she went last?

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