Reality bites

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Young audience in northern Vietnam cheer at a Vietnam's Got Talent episode last November. Insiders say Vietnam's public are not familiar with the style of reality shows, that they tend to expect only the gentle and the beautiful things, only to overreact when the bad side of contestants is exposed.

Nguyen Thi Ngo became a YouTube sensation last week when she climbed on the Vietnam's Got Talent stage to criticize judges who had just eliminated her daughter.

Singer Le Nguyen Quynh Anh's performance, aired on February 12, was preceded with a clip of her family praising her talent in a way that many audience members felt was "rude" and "cocky."

Ngo, Anh's mother, stood up for her daughter on stage and has since taken her case to the local media to get her point across.

She says that footage of the family was edited to make them look bad and that Anh was treated unfairly through the whole competition. Ngo suspects her daughter's fate had been predetermined by producers.

"We were really shocked, and feel like we've been cheated," the mother told news website VietNamNet on February 15, recalling watching the show with the family on national television.

"I could not imagine they had arranged Anh's case that carefully to create such a big scandal."

Ngo said that she did not intend to step on the stage to argue with the judges about the elimination of her 15-year-old daughter, but emcee Quyen Linh, one of Vietnam's most popular event hosts, "pushed me to go on stage."

She said that when she appeared displeased with the judges' decision backstage, Linh told her that "you have to say it here, you have the right to. Please go on stage."

"Quyen Linh encouraged me to go on stage," said Ngo. "I was not stealing the stage like people said."

But Quyen Linh said he had nothing to do with it.

"The mother is being criticized not because she stepped on the stage but for what she said," Linh told Giao Duc Vietnam (Vietnam Education) in a report Saturday. "I cannot control what people say."

On stage, Ngo said: "I was surprised with the decision because a number of previous singers were worse than Quynh Anh but still made it to the next round."

She told the judges that she was not "begging for an award," but she just wanted young people with a gift and passion to be given a better chance at success.

The mother told VietNamNet that she intended to talk to the show's producers not only because she wanted another chance for her child, but because she was angry with the thought that her daughter was being used for a preplanned scenario.

Ngo said her family was originally very enthusiastic about sending their daughter to the show. Everyone in the family was a fan of the show, she said.


Le Nguyen Quynh Anh, a 15-year-old Vietnam's Got Talent contestant, at her singing performance that was aired on the national television on February 12

But things didn't feel right soon as Anh entered the competition, according to Ngo.

When the girl first came to try her voice offstage on November 5 last year, there were no judges, songwriters or singers, only a director of the show named Thanh, said Ngo.

Then a group of cameramen and photographers filmed the family, asking them to talk about Anh's singing talent and list all her achievements, Ngo said.

She said the film crew told Anh to say out loud that "I've got talent" and she refused as she thought it made her sound arrogant. But she was told that all contestants on the show have to say the same thing.

Anh's brother was also interviewed in the introduction clip before her performance, but was quoted out of context, according to the family.

The brother told VietNamNet that he told the camera crew that "my family has four brothers and sisters, all are gifted artists, but as for singing, my youngest sister is the top of the top."

But the show cut the quote to: "As for singing, my youngest sister is the top of the top."

The brother said that he was just comparing Quynh Anh to other people in the family, but the show made it look like he was praising her to the sky.

Ngo said her family had followed every instruction issued by the organizers what to say and how to say it only to be made to look arrogant and become the target of public criticism.

"We feel hurt and insulted that our enthusiasm and innocence were used to attract viewers to the show.

"Quynh Anh is just a child, a student. How brutal is it to make her suffer this public criticism?"

Ngo said some people even pretended to be her or Quynh Anh to post comments on YouTube and online forums, which only made things worse.

But she said she did not blame the public as they were tricked by the show's organizers and she was not blaming the emcee or the judges, as they also had to follow the plan.

Ngo said that after the incident, her husband, who always wanted Quynh Anh to become a professional singer, has withdrawn the wish.

In contrast to the bad publicity, Nguyen Thanh Long, a local viewer, defended the family.

Long told Vietweek "This is simply a business. And I'd call upon the public to stay calm and smart in order not to be drawn into the plan of the organizers which only serves to make them more profit."

Several editorials in the local media have said that the controversy was the only interesting thing to happen to Vietnam's Got Talent, which has been widely panned by critics as boring.

The organizers themselves have denied Ngo's accusations of manipulation.

"Vietnam's Got Talent did not use the case of contestant Quynh Anh to attract the public," they said in a statement to local media Friday.

They said the fact that Anh's performance went viral was completely out of their hands.

Meanwhile, people in Vietnam's reality show industry said both the mother and the public were overreacting.

Phan Anh, the host of Vietnam Idol, said the mother should not have hurled such accusations at the producers.

"Each game has its own regulations, some are even unfair. But if you agree to play, you have to accept the rules," Anh told news website iOne Saturday.

"We all know the power of the editors"¦ It's not wrong of them to want to attract viewers, but how they do it is a long story and we can not blame the producers anytime their commercial intention has a negative effect."

But Anh also said that the public was being unnecessarily judgmental of Ngo and her daughter Quynh Anh.

Designer Do Manh Cuong, a judge for Vietnam's Next Top Model, told the news website that conflicting public opinion is one element that makes a reality show interesting.

But he argued that criticisms should not be so harsh on such a young and inexperienced girl.

Cuong said Vietnam's viewers are still unfamiliar with the style of reality shows, in which both the good and bad sides of contestants must be revealed.

He took examples from his own show, whose audience complained when the contestants began having conflicts with each other when living together.

"They sharply criticized the contestants' bad habits, which are actually very common in the daily life of each one of us," he said.

"Vietnamese audiences still want to see only the gentle and beautiful things in art and cultural shows. I think people should receive reality shows in a more relaxed and comfortable state of mind."

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