Move over Supergirl, China wants a new hero

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The Independent Online

These are unhappy times for Supergirl. Once China's most popular television series, watched by nearly a third of the country's 1.3 billion people, the Pop Idol-style show is struggling after falling foul of officialdom and losing out to competition - from superboys.

A Shanghai TV show called My Hero!, in which good-looking lads flex their muscles, sing songs, apply hairspray and resolve crunching moral dilemmas, has usurped Supergirl as China's most-watched reality TV show.

And the government now says Supergirl must stand aside and give the boys a turn if it wants to survive at all. From now on the show will be called Happy Boy - the government wants to lose the word "super", which has powerful connotations in Chinese.

Supergirl was the brainchild of Hunan Satellite Television in central China in 2004 and it made a huge impact on Chinese viewers, prompting nervous regulators to impose a series of restrictions.

The final of the show, or the Mongolian Sour Cow Milk Supergirl contest to give it its full title, two years ago was watched by 400 million people. Happy Boy will trim back the number of contestants - more than 100,000 hopefuls entered last year - with an online audition system, which requires applicants to submit a 60-second video clip of them singing unaccompanied.

The censors have said since the start that they consider Supergirl a vulgar display. Authorities in particular object to the frenzy of voting for candidates by mobile phone, a tricky phenomenon in a single-party state. The Communist Party does not allow any other political parties or organisations outside its control to operate.

Supergirl's loss is My Hero!'s gain. Part-Mr Universe, part-American Idol and partly an exercise in moral guidance, contestants on My Hero! sing, dance, sashay about in fashionable clothes, paint still lives and even do push-ups to impress the judges. They also have to answer tricky questions, such as "Why do you think you are a good man?" or "What will you do if someone says your girlfriend is not pretty?"

The television ads for the programme say: "My Hero! shows how frogs can become princes." And as its motto, the show takes a line from the Bob Dylan classic "Blowing in the Wind" - "how many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man".

"It is a show I can tune to after a long day in order to rest my tired brain. The guys there are attractive, a good rest for my eyes. I really get bored with the endless singing in Supergirl," said Wang Huan, 43, who works for a foreign company.

The show's Chinese name is Jia You, Hao Nan Er! which translates literally as "Add Oil, Good Boy!" - "add oil" is what people shout at sporting events and it means "come on". But producers have opted for the snappier English title My Hero! "The women's era has come and gone. Now it's time to enjoy the charms of the men," one of the judges, Taiwanese singer and actress Yi Nengjing, writes in her blog.

"I prefer My Hero! to Supergirl. I like the way the boys dress, and I find it amazing to see the boys cry when they're moved," said Shen Si, 23.

The aim is to create a new male idol for female fans, Dragon TV vice-president Xiang Haiqi told Chinese radio, with the focus on courage, versatility and a sense of responsibility. "I thought it should be about a feeling instead of just singing and dancing. Simply put, the audience should shriek for one guy, and this is not necessarily linked to how well he sings or dances," said Xiang.

The overall winner receives 300,000 yuan (£19,800) to start a business, and a Mazda. There are also categories for Best Teamwork Spirit, Best Body and Best Ability.