China's got talent - and its own Susan Boyle

An online video of Cai Hongping singing in her Hello Kitty apron at a chicken stand in China attracted 10 million hits within 10 days, a Chinese record for such a short span of time.

Eugene Hoshiko/AP
British singer Susan Boyle (r.) poses with Cai Hongping, one of the finalists who owns a vegetable stand in the wet market during a press conference on July 8, in Shanghai, China. Boyle was in Shanghai as a guest for the final rounds of 'China's Got Talent.'

When Cai Hongping, a Shanghai market stall holder, offered to sing a song for two young customers if they bought enough of her chicken feet, she may scarcely have expected that she was launching herself on the path to national stardom.

But someone filmed her stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” on video and posted it on “Yukou,” the Chinese clone of YouTube. (see the video here, she starts singing about 3:30)

She certainly had a striking soprano voice. She also had girlish pigtails, a warm smile, and a fetching pink Hello Kitty apron. Within 10 days the video had attracted 10 million hits, a Chinese record for such a short span of time.

That was in March 2010. Last Sunday, Ms. Cai – calling herself “Sweet Cauliflower Mum” – came in second on the “China’s Got Talent” reality TV show.

So far, so Susan Boyle. But there was a twist. Cai has only a middle school education, so her English is not so hot and her Italian is nonexistent. Which posed a problem, since she wanted to sing “Nessun Dorma,” the famous aria from Puccini’s opera “Turandot.”

So she made up her own words. In Chinese. Words that resonated with her own life.

Where Pavarotti, sticking to the original libretto, sang (in Italian) “Even you, O Princess, in your cold room, watch the stars that tremble with love and hope,” Sweet Cauliflower Mum sang “Chicken legs, chicken wings, duck legs, duck wings, carrots, tomatoes, and Chinese onions, come and buy them; Chinese onions for free!” (see the very Susan Boyle-like video here)

“I still don’t know the song’s real lyrics, and I don’t know how to sing them in Chinese,” Cai confessed to the talent show judges. “But I thought that if I rewrote the lyrics with the names of my vegetables, all my friends and ordinary Chinese people could understand. That might be better.”

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