Show business can be notoriously unforgiving in its treatment of female stars of a certain age.
Paparazzi train their camera lenses on the wrinkles and crow's feet on their once-unlined faces; good roles become scarce as they grow older, with many missing out on parts in major films and TV series; and once their names disappear from the screen or music charts, they are written off as has-beens.
So the latest co-production between Mango TV and Hunan Television, a regional broadcaster in China, is a surprise in an industry that prizes youth and beauty above everything else.
Announced last week, the reality show " whose title Chengfengpolang De Jiejie, roughly translates as "sisters riding the winds and breaking the waves" " will feature 30 Chinese female stars who are " gasp " over 30, vying for a spot in a five-member band. The programme will air in June.
If you think this is some C-list production, it isn't " some of the contestants are established and familiar names in Chinese entertainment. They include Taiwanese singer Annie Yi Neng-jing (52 years old), Chinese actress Ning Jing (48), and Hong Kong actresses Christy Chung Lai-tai (50) and Adia Chan Chung-ling (50), who shot to fame playing the legendary Jiangsu songstress Zhou Xuan in the 1990s in Song Bird, a drama produced by Hong Kong-based broadcaster TVB.
Over the course of a number of weeks, the contestants will hone their dancing and singing skills with help from a panel of celebrity coaches: pop star Aaron Kwok Fu-shing, Taiwanese-American singer Stanley Huang Li-sheng, and Chinese singers Sun Nan and Han Hong. Their performances will be judged by an all-woman live audience of 500.
The show, to be hosted by leading Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming, bucks the trend of reality TV shows that put teenage girls in the spotlight.
Produce Camp 2020 , launched recently by Chinese online entertainment giant Tencent's television arm, is a Chinese take on the popular South Korean K-pop reality show Produce 101, which features 101 female trainees going head to head to secure a position in a new idol group. The second season of a similar show, Youth with You, premiered in March on video platform iQiyi. Youku, a video hosting service, is producing a reality-TV show for young male wannabe idols. (Youku is operated by Youku Tudou, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, owner of the South China Morning Post.)
These hit productions are not only popular among Chinese viewers but also among aspiring young artists, as they have proved to be an effective route to success and stardom.
Many of today's Chinese superstars entered show business through such contests. They include Yang Chaoyue, who debuted as a member of girl group Rocket Girls 101 after finishing third in a Tencent selection show. Another is Cai Xukun who, in 2015, took part in the Anhui TV-produced Super Idol and received intensive training in South Korea.
The casting of older female stars in a reality TV show was pioneered by South Korean TV station KBS, which aired Sister's Slam Dunk in 2016. The show showed a cast of mature female stars overcoming the odds to form a girl group called Unnies, who subsequently released a single titled Shut Up.
The Hunan TV show could be a golden opportunity for the chosen women to enjoy a second stab at fame. The show's promotional poster says it wants to redefine all-female pop bands.
"Thirty sisters gather together to overcome all grudges ... and labels. They will undergo gruelling training to show their best selves on stage. By rising to intense competition and challenges, they will transform themselves ... to form a band," it reads.
True to the promise of gruelling training, the participants were recently left exhausted after a 20-hour dance shoot, according to Chinese media reports.
Chinese-speaking internet users were initially shocked, upon reading the list of show participants released last week, to see that it included actresses and singers over the age of 50, but they soon warmed to the boundary-breaking idea, leaving comments online expressing their hopes that the show would give its stars the recognition they are due.
One user of Douban, a Chinese film and TV review aggregation site, wrote: "Is this for real? There's finally something different amid the glut of cookie-cutter talent shows". Another wrote in a forum on Baidu, China's answer to Google: "It will be nice to see (the contestants) support each other. They are well-recognised stars who are much better than those teenage contestants (in other shows) whom hardly anyone has heard about before."
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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