Elderly songbird is new golden girl on TV show

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 May, 2009, 12:00am

Call her the Chinese Susan Boyle.

A 79-year-old pensioner from Shaanxi has become an instant celebrity with her entry in a TV talent contest. And she says it was all an accident.

Wu Baiwei, a retired university lecturer from Xian, only signed up for Happy Girls after stumbling across the auditions when she went out to pay her phone bill.

'I saw so many young girls queueing, so I asked what it was for,' she said. 'They told me it was for a singing competition, so I said 'Do you think an old lady like me can enter?''

Facing the show's three judges, including Canto-pop star Andy Hui Chi-on, Wu sang the patriotic song On Songhua River, a lament set against the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s.

Her story went national after clips of the audition were posted onto youku.com, a mainland-based video sharing site similar to YouTube.

Similarities have already been drawn between her entry and that of Boyle in Britain's Got Talent. The 48-year-old Scottish spinster has become a global internet phenomenon thanks to her performances on the British television talent show.

Wu is set to have her moment in the spotlight after being picked as one of the 50 finalists on the Chinese show, a spin-off from the hit show Super Girls.

Asked to give her definition of happiness, the former lecturer in Chinese said it was to work hard while young but to enjoy an easy life in retirement.

'Sing when you need to sing, have fun when you need to have fun and eat when you need to eat,' she said.

Judge Wu Zhoutong said he had been 'incredibly moved' by Wu's performance, but questioned whether her age would be a problem.

'The contestants in this show are normally fairly young girls,' he said. 'Have you considered whether it is suitable for you as a 79-year-old to enter?'

Wu - who had trouble hearing the judges unless they spoke close to her ear - said she had been told when she signed up that age was not a factor, and that she would try her hardest.

'I have never had a chance to sing in a competition like this before,' she said. 'I'm very grateful for this great age we are living in. That an elderly woman like me can be here singing today shows the amount of progress that society has made.'

It appeared Wu had already won over one fan before the clips made it to the internet. After her song, Hui knelt in front of her and asked her for singing lessons.

'Will you take me as a student? Can you teach me to sing?' the veteran pop star asked her. The show's finals will be held in July.