The 63,000 dollar question: who won?

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Bitter notes mar the first season of favorite song of the year competition

Singer Tung Duong (L) and songwriter Doan Nho (R) received the Song of the Year 2012 prize of VND1.3 bilion (US$63,000) from Bai hat yeu thich manager Huyen Thanh (middle) at a ceremony held in Ho Chi Minh City on January 6, 2013

Songwriter Luu Thien Huong is done with Vietnam Television's Bai hat yeu thich (Favorite song) show.

She wants no part of it anymore.

She wants to withdraw her songs Nguoi hat tinh ca (Love song singer) and Muon (Borrow) from the website of  the show and get of its board of juries as well.

"I don't want any more fuss with the show's organizers and I don't want my works used by them any longer," Huong, who left her promising singing career at the age of 24 to focus on composing, told Thanh Nien on January 8.

Two days earlier, her hit song Nguoi hat tinh ca narrowly lost the show's Song of the Year award and the handsome prize money of VND1.3 billion (nearly US$63,000) to the remixed 1956 song Chiec khan Pieu (The Pieu scarf) by senior songwriter Doan Nho.

Her song was voted the show's Song of the Month once last January as well as Song of the Week nine times until the remix version of Chiec khan Pieu by singer Tung Duong made its debut last November.

It won the Song of the Month award in November and December, piping Huong's song, sung by Uyen Linh, to win the Song of the Year prize.

The remix of a classic song, replacing the folk overtones in the original with elements of different genres including New Age, Jazz and electronic music proved to be a super hit, winning Tung Duong, 30, and Doan Nho, VND1 billion (around $48,000) and VND300 million (nearly $15,000) respectively at a ceremony in Ho Chi Minh City on January 6.

Not agreeing with the result, Huong and singer Uyen Linh, winner of Vietnam Idol 2010, sent petitions to the organizer and posted their complaints on Facebook before and after the ceremony.

Huong even asked local authorities to secretly investigate if Chiec khan Pieu really deserved the award or if there was any irregularities that had taken place.

The two artistes are not the first to openly accuse the organizers of being unfair and inconsistent in counting fans' votes that significantly affect the final result.

They complained that though both the songs received a large number of spam votes, the organizers recognized many of Chiec khan Pieu's votes as valid, but ignored most of Nguoi hat tinh ca's, resulting in the latter being selected Song of the Month in December.

A group of Linh's fans in Hanoi and abroad went to the extent of buying 1,000 mobile phones and 1,000 SIM cards to vote for their idol and made a video clip about the purchase in a Mobifone shop in Cau Giay District, Hanoi on December 20, to prove that thousands of votes for Nguoi hat tinh ca were sent by them and valid. They also wanted to show that VTV has inconsistent answers about spam votes.

In the video clip, a fan named Nguyen Thuy Linh said that she had made a call to the organizer to ask what constituted a spam vote.

"At first, they told me that votes from unreachable phone numbers will be rejected. But then, later, when I made another call, they replied that the votes would be invalid if they come from phone numbers that do not answer when called."

"What if I was accidentally too busy or unable to answer the call," Linh asked?

Linh's friends, Nguyen Ngoc Cuong and Nguyen Hoang Minh, students of Hanoi University of Fine Arts, also complained in the video about the impolite and irresponsible attitude of the organizers and administrators of Bai hat yeu thich's Facebook account towards the fan and their idol singer Uyen Linh.

However, in an official statement sent by the organizers to the The Thao & Van Hoa newspaper on January 8, the spam votes were not sent by the fans, but by Luu Thien Huong and Uyen Linh themselves.

The statement said that to make sure the voting process was being carried out with consistency, the organizers allowed the contestants to check each other's votes as long as they got permission from their competitors.

"But the artists by no means are not allowed to record or take photos of the voting list, which includes the phone numbers and the number of votes, for data security reasons," the statement said. 

"But representatives of Huong and Linh purposely violated that rule when they visited our office on December 25 and took photographs of lists of unreachable phone numbers."

Three days later, the two artists sent their representatives to the office again and asked the organizers to make calls to the numbers in the list again to check if they are still "fake".

"We concluded that Luu Thien Huong and Uyen Linh had used the list to cheat us," the statement said.

Huong, who is an advisor for the Vietnam Idol 2012 contest and a jury member of the annual Ho Chi Minh City Television's Television Singing Contest, admitted that her representative did take the photos, but only for reference. Furthemore,"it is just a verbal regulation," she told VnExpress.

Vuong Bich Thu, deputy manager of the show said that on January 4, upon receiving Huong's petition, the organizers invited artistes of both songs to have a meeting with them regarding the issue. To make sure the meeting is transparent and conducted in public view, the organizer used cameras, but "Luu Thien Huong left the meeting the minute she knew the meeting would be recorded."

"I was not informed in advance that there would be cameras. I could not stay because I was not sure if they planned to do something out of my control," Huong countered.

Copyright dispute

Regarding the withdrawal of Nguoi hat tinh ca from the show's website, the organizers told Thanh Nien on January 8 that they have not yet received any official announcement from the songwriter.

"In case we get the request, we would (still) not remove the two songs from Bai hat yeu thich," said deputy manager Thu, adding that all participating musicians and singers are requested to follow regulations and comply with their commitment to the program.

"Once the singers have their songs in the nominations list, they have to make sure that they have already taken permission from the composer and have the song's copyright as well.

"In addition, only before the artists join our live show, which is held once a month, can they quit the competition," said Thu. (Once an artiste participated in the live show, she/he would not be able to withdraw from the show's website till it fell out of the top 20 rankings, though she/he could refuse to participate in the live shows.)

Earlier, singers Nguyen Ngoc Anh and Duong Quoc Hung had requested that their songs Se mai yeu anh (Love you forever) and Nhan sac (Beauty) are withdrawn from the show's list, but based on an initial agreement between the artists and the organizers, the two songs are still on the show's website.

"Bai hat yeu thich is not in it for business, but we spent a lot on the songs to transform it into a complete, perfect work for audience to vote," Thu said.

"I have never made any commitment with the organizer and Uyen Linh's exclusive rights to the song have also expired, and now I am totally free [to withdraw the song] according to the copyright law," Huong told Thanh Nien on January 8.

Whether the controversy will fizzle out or take on larger proportions remains to be seen.

Artist Huyen Thanh, manager of the Bai hat yeu thich show, said that she and her team had anticipated the issue and they find it is normal for Uyen Linh and Luu Thien Huong to react as they have done.

"When it comes to such a big prize, and you it is almost yours, but are beaten by another at the last minute, you will definitely get upset," she said.

(The winners of the famous Vietnam Idol 2012 and The Voice will receive VND600 million (US$28,756) and VND500 million (US$23,963) respectively, in comparison with the 2012 Bai hat yeu thich's prize of US$62,305.)

"People have the right to express their opinion. However, they should consider the effect their words could have on others," said Thanh, who refused to say if she felt Chiec khan Pieu deserved the first prize.

Singer Tung Duong, who is a close friend of both Luu Thien Huong and Huyen Thanh, said that he respects the opinion of Luu Thien Huong, especially since he is a part of the showbiz business.

"Prizes always go with controversy, and it has happened with Chiec khan Pieu," said Duong, who shot to fame by winning the Sao Mai Diem Hen (Morning Star Rendezvous) award in 2004, a national singing contest similar to Vietnamese Idol.

"However, I trust the audience's choice as well as the organizers, who will give us a clear answer," said Duong, who was also selected Singer of the Year 2011 at the 7th Cong Hien (Devotion) Music Awards.

He said he would donate half the prize money to needy people in the northwest mountainous region where Chiec khan Pieu was composed 56 years ago.

Organizers have said a press briefing regarding the scandal will be held very soon.

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