SHE was the face who launched more than three million SMS votes.
An unabashedly tomboyish music student from Si-chuan, 21-year-old Li Yuchun rose from obscurity to win a nationwide televised singing competition that captured the imagination of millions of ordinary Chinese people.
Hundreds of thousands of her fans — including female teenage devotees known as yu mi in a cutesy play on her name (yu is a character in her name and mi refers to fans) — sent out 3.5 million SMS votes to support her in the Aug 26 finale.
Since then, the lanky pop idol has appeared in countless billboard advertisements and magazine covers — and even made it to Time Magazine’s year-end list of Asia’s heroes.
Her detractors have said that her singing and dancing are nothing much to shout about.
However, a major Chinese record label now intends to parlay her confident androgyny into regional and even international success, sensing in her a rough diamond amidst a Mando-pop singing scene full of identikit doe-eyed nymphets.
Consistently singing songs by male performers such as 1970s Taiwanese singing idol Liu Wenzheng and Latino bon-bon shaker Ricky Martin during the competition, Li broke new ground with her win in more ways than one.
Super Girls, which is produced by a relatively obscure Hunan satellite TV station, had already started airing last year. However, it was only this year that the show — in its second season — became a national phenomenon, with some 400 million people tuning in for the finals.
Li’s eyebrow-raising individuality was credited in part for this groundswell of "grassroots democracy", with eight million SMS votes pouring in on the night of the finals.
~ by Clarissa Oon, 2006: Asians to Watch, The Straits Times, December 17, 2005