Of the nine winners of China’s hit reality TV show Youth with You Season 2 , Liu Yuxin sticks out like a sore thumb. Picked to be part of new all-girl pop group THE9, the 23-year-old singer doesn’t look like a typical TV talent show contestant. With her short, dyed hair and her androgynous looks, she could easily be mistaken for a member of a K-pop boy band. And that is precisely why there is so much buzz about her. Throughout Youth with You Season 2 , which was streamed on popular Chinese entertainment platform iQiyi, Liu, from Guizhou in southwest China, wooed the audience with her tomboyish fashion sense as well as her superb dancing and singing skills. While other contestants wore grey blazers, bow ties and uniform-type skirts in promotional posters for the show, Liu wore a pair of grey shorts and a tie. She is by far the most popular member of THE9 after receiving 17 million public votes – four million more than the second-placed Esther Yu Shuxin. The nine winners were selected from 109 contestants. Liu was exactly what the contestant Wu Han, producer of Youth With You Season 2 and manager of iQiyi Fancy Monster Studio, had been searching for. Lisa from Blackpink cheated out of US$820,000 by ex-manager “The show proposed the concept of ‘Do not define, just create infinite possibilities’,” he says. “When we selected the trainees, rather than seeing if they fitted a specific criterion for idol group members, we focused on whether they had fascinating personas and their values. “The awareness of women’s independence has got stronger in society. The show aimed to present the contestants from multiple perspectives …. Being ‘cute’ and ‘sexy’ are only two of the many styles that a girl group can take on …. [We want to] encourage diversity.” Wu says it helps that Liu excelled in multiple areas including vocals, dance, rap and stage performance. “The live footage of her first public performance became the first video of Youth With You Season 2 to rack up over 1 million views on YouTube,” Wu says. “The hashtag #XINter# [a combination of her name ‘Xin’ and ‘center’] at one point became Twitter’s top trending hashtag in Vietnam.” Liu is no stranger to talent shows. Her first foray in showbiz was taking part in Hunan TV’s Up! Juniors in 2012. The following year she joined a talent show for dancing organised by Dragon Television. In 2016, she won a place in the seven-member girl band Lady Bees, formed from a pop-idol selection show on regional Chinese channel Zhejiang TV. Although Lady Bees released an album in 2017 and won several awards at music events in China, Liu failed to get much recognition. She also took part in talent shows including Rap China and Street Dance of China. With both parents in the music industry, Liu started to learn dancing at the age of 10. She went to Beijing at the age of 12 to learn street dance. It was on Youth With You Season 2 that Liu got her first break. Liu told the Post she had not been lucky in the past: when she joined street dance competitions, the genre was not popular in China; and when she took part in girl band selection shows, female pop outfits were not widely sought after. She said her nonconformist looks did not help either, and some blamed her image for Lady Bees’ failure. “I just want to be myself … no matter how long the road [to achieving my dream] is, I will forge ahead like a warrior,” she said. After seeing Liu’s performance of the song No Joke , Lisa of K-pop girl group Blackpink , one of the judges on Youth with You Season 2 , said: “You are the one I have been waiting for.” Liu’s success has also excited viewers who have grown weary of identical-looking female pop artists. A user on film and TV forum Douban said women who do not wear skirts and do not look cute can also be attractive. “Liu has the guts to go against the grain even though male fans are obsessed with only sexy and feminine-looking girls,” they wrote.