Zhu Zhiwen: 'Brother Coat' is China’s new Susan Boyle
In April 2009, millions of viewers watched frumpy Susan Boyle step onto the stage of “Britain’s Got Talent” and proclaim her dream of being a professional singer.
Her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” from “Les Misérables” stunned audiences around the world, including Chinese netizens who watched the video of her performance online.
Her voice confounded all expectations -- the judges' eyes bulged, the crowd went wild and Boyle became an overnight sensation.
Following Boyle’s rise to fame, Asian underdogs flocked to local reality shows -- from a Taiwanese shop worker dubbed “Little Fatty” who shot to fame with a flawless rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You", to Shanghainese Zhu Xiaoming on the first season of “China’s Got Talent.”
And now farmer Zhu Zhiwen has grabbed the limelight on Shangdong TV’s “I’m a Big Star.”
(See video of Zhu Zhiwen, China's answer to Susan Boyle, singing a folk song here.)
Dressed in an old military coat and a battered wool cap, Zhu captured audiences' attention singing “Eastward Rush the Torrential Currents of the Yangtze,” the theme song of the movie drama “Romance of Three Kingdoms.”
“I’m a Big Star” is similar to Shanghai Dragon TV’s “China’s Got Talent,” a reality talent show allowing contestants to show off the best they’ve got to the audience and a panel of judges in hope of getting their 15 minutes of fame.
The interest in Zhu was sparked by the contrast between his powerful voice and his plain appearance on stage. Dressed in what the commentators called an “unrefined coat,” soon Chinese netizens nicknamed Zhu “Brother Coat.”
As soon as he began to sing, any doubts about Zhu's professional abilities died. His talent and strong baritone, stacked up to even the song's original singer Yang Hongji’s voice, prompting cheers from onlookers and leaving the show's judges nearly speechless.
The judges praised his pitch and tone, even asking if he had any professional training.
“When he started, I thought someone mistakenly played the original tape. But later on, I got it," said judge Li Jun to the press. "His voice was like the original’s, but also has its own characteristics."
- More on CNNGo: Dating TV in China -- ‘Don’t talk to me unless you’re rich’
Soon after the show, clips of Zhu’s performance went viral online.
Born in 1969, Zhu comes from Zhulou Village in Shandong Province, and grew up singing -- but not to a national audience.
“When I’m working in the fields,” said Zhu to the media after his performance, “I often sing for myself, which leads other villagers to think me crazy, but I love it.”