What The Voice of the Stars finale says about Hongkongers
TVB’s months-long reality show The Voice of the Stars finally came to an end on Sunday night, with a tearful Fred Cheng claiming the championship armed with more than 161,000 public votes and a professional award. The crowd roared with joy, and thunderous applause erupted across the studio where the live cast took place. Even Cheng’s “si-fu”, judge and music veteran Eric Moo Kai-yin who took him under his wing from the very beginning, shed a few tears in front of the camera. It was a finale that couldn’t have been better, albeit the excessive positivity the show carried was way out of sync with the city’s cynicism.
There’s no need for me to explain how marvellous Cheng has been all the way (I’m a fan, I’m biased and I’m not ashamed of it). I’m more interested in how the finale of The Voice of the Stars might mirror the changing cultural and social landscape of Hong Kong. After all, 237,930 voted on Sunday night via a smartphone app (as opposed to the Election Committee’s 1,200 votes that decided who to lead the city). There must be some truth in it.
Known for its flat perspective of Hong Kong, Sunday’s finale featuring four finalists – all the of them previously little known TV actors - was a surprise intervention of TVB’s monocultural reality: Fred Cheng was a Hongkonger brought up in Canada, the show’s newcomer Hoffman Cheng was an ethnically Chinese Hongkonger, blondie Corinna Chamberlain was a Hongkonger born to Kiwi and Australian parents, and Ningbo native Yao Bing has just officially become a Hong Kong resident. We seldom see ethnically non-Chinese faces or hear actors speak Cantonese with an accent on TV, but suddenly the world of TVB has become shockingly liberal and accommodating.
Funnily enough, the four finalists coincidentally represented the four groups of people that made up today’s society of Hong Kong. And their final ranking decided by the 237,930 voters could somewhat reflect society’s acceptance toward these four groups:
Fred Cheng: 161,046 votes
Hoffman Cheng: 42,136 votes
Corinna Chamberlain: 20,114 votes
Yao Bing: 14,634 votes
Speaking in a post-finale interview, Yao said he was confident with his singing but he believed he lost because he was a “new Hongkonger”. Yao, who had numerous mainland singing contest accolades under his belt, was brought into The Voice of the Stars mid-season.
But despite the fact that he gave up his Ningbo citizenship for a Hong Kong residency and he made an extra effort to sing in the local language Cantonese instead of just Mando-pop songs, he was yet to be fully recognised as a local, just like many mainlanders who moved to Hong Kong. Yao was no doubt a great entertainer with high potential, but his mainland-flavoured performances put a gap between him and a local Hong Kong audience.
Caucasian Chamberlain, on the other hand, blended much better with the local audience. Not only did she perform mostly Canto-pop songs (by Sammi Cheng, Kay Tse, etc), her family was there to support and flaunt their Cantonese in front of millions of TV audiences. She might not be a better singer than Yao, but her face was certainly a breath of fresh air in Hong Kong’s boring TV scene. And hence, she came third in the race.
But the most interesting competition lay between the two Chengs. Local Hoffman was brought in as a challenger just couple of weeks ago, singing local rock ’n’ roll songs by Beyond and former Beyond member Paul Wong Koon-chung. His deep voice and skilful singing performances impressed many and even some who favoured Fred – many said Hoffman sang better than Fred in the finale. But then, populist voting was always about impression. Not only did Fred lead the race from day one, his versatile musical talents as a singer, a guitarist and the ability to perform a range of music from Canto-pop to English pop and rock ’n’ roll classics made the overseas educated Fred a more worldly choice compared to a pure local Hongkonger. Don’t all Hong Kong parents like to send their children to study in the West?
Now the dust has settled so regardless of the result, it was a delight to see some new showbiz hopefuls being discovered. If TVB’s reality represents a kind mainstream cultural value of Hong Kong, then perhaps Hong Kong is slowly evolving and is finally on the right path that will lead this place to eventually become a multi-cultural global city. Nevertheless, based on the experience of The Voice of the Stars, Cantonese still appears to be a decisive factor in how much one could really integrate with the local culture.