Child dancers Nguyen Dang Quan (L) and Tran Bao Ngoc captivate spectators with a dance performance that tells the story of Michael Jackson coming to Vietnam and learning Vietnamese dance with a local girl. Photo: BHD
The first season of "Vietnam's Got Talent" is reaching its climax. The first final on April 22 featured half of the 14 contestants who danced, sang, popped (as in hip-hop) and played homemade musical instruments.
It wraps up on April 29 with the remaining finalists, chosen from over 3,000 initial auditions, trying to prove that the judges made the right choice.
In most countries where it has been franchised, the show has favored singers, especially those in unfortunate circumstances that arouse people's sympathy.
Vietnam's Got Talent has gone down the same path, with nine singers and vocal groups among the 14 finalists.
Phuong Anh, a young girl suffering from brittle bone disease (Lobstein Syndrome) is considered the favorite, not only for her fine voice, but for her optimism in the face of adversity.
But viewers complain that Got Talent is just another singing contest similar to "Vietnam Idol" and that other talents outside of vocal abilities are being ignored.
"We expected more from Got Talent," said viewer Thao Linh. "I'm not saying that singing is not a good talent, but I have not heard any really unique voice that has moved my soul. I did like Vo Trong Phuc with his stunning cover of Michael Buble's "˜Home.' But he let me down with "˜You're Beautiful' in the next round."
Si Phu, a representative from the show's producers at BHD Company, said music is one of the best ways to win people's hearts.
A CLOSER LOOK AT VIETNAM'S GOT TALENT
Things kicked off on October 30, 2011 with auditions in nine cities and provinces that ended on November 26. Over 3,000 people auditioned. The show began airing December 18 and will end May 6 this year, when the winner will be revealed.
The winner will be chosen from four finalists picked from 14 semi-finalists' in two final episodes. Top 4 talents will perform a special show for the judges and the winner will be chosen via text-message voting for 15 minutes after the top 4 finish their performance. The winner will receive a cash prize of VND400 million.
Model Thuy Hanh is the show's lone female judge, and the panel is rounded out by music composer and producer Huy Tuan, and theater actor Thanh Loc.
The show's 14 finalists include English teacher Vo Trong Phuc, 7-year old Thanh Truc, 13-year old Vu Song Vu, opera singer and student Nguyen Huong Thao, 12-year-old Vu Dinh Tri Giao, rocker Dinh Ngoc Hoang and Nguyen Phuong Anh, a young girl suffering from brittle bone disease (Lobstein Syndrome).
Two music groups are also competing, Moc (Wood) and Dong Thoi Gian (Flowing Time).
Other talents include child dancers Nguyen Dang Quan and Tran Bao Ngoc, farmer Kieu Van Thanh, parkour group Gia Dinh Bong Bong (Bubble Family), and hip-hop dancers Duong Manh Hoa and Nguyen Truong Giang.
He also said the show's makers weren't simply looking for the next star. They wanted everyday people to show the country what they got.
"The contestants are not limited by their background, figure or circumstance. It is all about their talents and their aspiration to share and shine," said Phu. "This is the humane angle of this competition. It is just about giving wings to a dream and honoring normal people with remarkable gifts."
Khanh Hung, an entertainment reporter at Song Nhac (Musical Wave) Magazine, told Vietweek that sometimes success in a singing competition show has no connection with becoming an actual pop star.
"Vietnam Idol's second season in 2008 is a good example of the fact that singing competitions may be popular, but their winners often fall flat. [The winner] Quoc Thien hasn't had any significant musical achievement since he won the contest," said Hung.
Phu also argued that some of the best performances on Got Talent actually weren't singers. He pointed to Gia Dinh Bong Bong (Bubble Family) with their Parkour (a physical discipline which focuses on efficient movement around obstacles), and Kieu Van Thanh, a farmer who plays homemade musical instruments built from water pipes, cleaning mops and chairs, as two of the show's most popular acts.
Juvenile dancers, Nguyen Dang Quan and Tran Bao Ngoc, also wowed spectators with their skillful dancesport techniques.
Vietnam's Got Talent has also been hit with several scandals.
Contestant Le Nguyen Quynh Anh accused organizers of intentionally editing her performance to dishonestly misrepresent Anh and her family for higher ratings. She also wrote a letter to the parliament about her plight.
The outrage grabbed headlines for over a month.
After Anh's outrage, semi-finalist Nguyen Cuong quit the show for different reasons. On Cuong's Facebook page, he posted lines from what he said was the show's "irrational" contract to explain why he left even after the judges approved of his performance and promoted him to the next round.
Local TV critics also said remarks from the show's judges were hollow and uninspiring.
But Khanh Hung said that the first season of the show wasn't even over yet and it was too soon to predict anything.
"It cannot be denied that the show is really in touch with the local public, with people watching both on TV and the Internet. Is it simply hard to make any conclusions before the show has run its course as there are still seven more contestants and the show has more viewers than any other on television," he said.
"The show is struggling to be a pioneer, let's wait and see."
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