Wang Ju.[Photo provided to China Daily]
A summer talent show released on Tencent's video platform that's looking to create a leading girl group from China has been generating a huge buzz on the country's social media platforms.
Already running for a month, the top 11 contestant in the program's final tally of votes will go on to form a girl band looking to break into Chinese entertainment circles.
As the Chinese adaptation of the South Korean reality show Produce 101, domestic audiences are used to seeing wannabe pop stars sporting slim figures, white skin and a saccharine smiles to match the accepted image of a K-pop goddess.
Wang Ju (third from left), a contestant in the reality show, is now finding more support.[Photo provided to China Daily]
However, this past week has witnessed a quick burst of overwhelming attention on a contestant named Wang Ju, who was once regarded as an unpromising outsider because of her perceived unattractiveness.
The 25-year-old, despite being relatively good at singing and dancing, was darker and more stout than her more conventionally glamorous competitors, and so far from the ideal image portrayed by modern girl bands that her performances met with derision from some netizens.
Wang responded to the wave of unfriendly jeers - "Hell is empty, Wang Ju is here" was just one example - with a wry sense of humor, rather than feeling dejected about her lack of popularity.
"Many people told me that I am not suitable to be in a girl group, but you have the opportunity to redefine China's leading girl group." She told the audience with an air of confidence after one of her performances.
On May 26, the program aired some old photos of Wang that showed she was once also a fair-skinned "Miss Sweetheart" with a good figure a few years ago.
Wang says at that time she hadn't figured out her own standards of beauty, but she now understands that "being yourself is what makes a girl beautiful."
Besides, the lyrics she has written highlighting the importance of women's independence in society have resonated with many viewers, and her growing legions of followers.
Wang Ju.[ Photo provided to China Daily]
Su Yujing, 24, joined one of Wang's fan clubs, and voted for the singer from Shanghai every day.
"I used to chase after the adorable stars in the Japanese girl group AKB48," says the Gansu province native, "But now I'm getting sick of pop idols with empty minds."
Su says she likes Wang, not only because she is well-spoken and hardworking, but also because of the amusing way that Wang's fans use to spread her message.
Since ju means chrysanthemum in Chinese, Wang's fans refer to themselves as Tao Yuanming - the name of an ancient Chinese poet who professed a love for chrysanthemums - and write rhyming couplets and memes to praise the singer and canvas votes for her.
This approach appeared to have worked well, as thousands of internet users found these ju-related phrases and memes flooding their screens over the following days.
Wu Xiaoyan, a research associate at the Shanghai Art Research Institute, principally studies feminism and urban culture.
She compared the overnight sensation of Wang to Li Yuchun, the winner of 2005's Super Girls, the first reality show for solo female singers in China.
"Audiences have grown more self-conscious over the past 13 years. They want to support people who can gain their sympathy, while most icons manufactured by the entertainment industry fail to tap into these emotions," says Wu.
The sociology major says that fans of Wang are looking to express their own eagerness to be independent, develop their own sense of identity and respect social diversity by supporting Wang.
一位网友在微博上详细解释了给王菊投票的原因：“一开始有一种挑战传统的感觉。‘为什么我们一定要选你们喜欢的传统女团？’ …… 后来我们发现菊的态度跟我们一样，‘我不想做传统定义上的乖孩子。’”