For nearly three hours Chinese society stopped - and voted. No, it wasn't a political revolution, but a mass thumbs up to a 21-year-old from Sichuan who belts out the song "Zombie" from the rock band "Cranberries" as part of her act.
China's "Super Girl" is an American Idol-style TV show whose grand finale of dancing and singing drew 400 million viewers here last Friday night, roughly equivalent to every person in the US and Britain.
In China, Super Girl created a stir from bamboo forest villages to the crab shacks of Shanghai, and is seen as a new phenomenon. Nothing this large and spontaneous has ever pushed its way unapproved into China's mainstream media before.
Some 8 million, mostly younger, Chinese paid the equivalent of 2 cents to send a "text message of support" (the word "vote" is avoided) via cellphone for one of the three Super Girl finalists. Li Yuchun, a music student whose tomboy looks and confidence onstage are the talk of Chinese chat rooms, won with 3.5 million votes. The three finalists, all in their early 20s, became instant celebrities in a nation that really hasn't made much room for the pop star concept, except when they come from Hong Kong or Taiwan.
Super Girl owes its popularity to its raw authenticity, to indirectly giving voice to individual Chinese through a vote, and to its unscripted creation of a feeling of "happiness," according to a dozen young Chinese interviewed on campus and inside Beijing restaurants on Friday.
The program did not, for example, emerge from the Beijing studios of official Chinese programming, but from a provincial station in the gritty heartland of Hunan, that has a satellite uplink. The contest is officially called the "Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl Contest." By its rules any female, young or old, talented or not, can participate - not just the familiar beauty-queen types from central casting.