How a Russian Man Is Forced Into Stardom in China

Chinese fans have taken joy in watching a Russian man reluctantly rise to stardom.
April 26, 2021, 12:00pm
Lelush C-pop Tencent Chuang2021
Lelush becomes popular for his aloof attitude. Photo: Tencent/YouTube

In a talent show where contestants compete for a spot in a boy group, you would expect to see performers sing and dance their hearts out to please viewers. 

But Vladislav Sidorov, a Russian man who joined an idol contest in China by accident, has emerged as the show’s star for an unlikely reason—he just wanted to go home.

The 27-year-old, nicknamed Lelush, has won the hearts of hundreds of thousands of viewers of the Chinese talent show, Chuang 2021, by looking aloof and disinterested in becoming a star. He skipped singing practices and pleaded with viewers to let him lose in an internet vote that decides who gets eliminated. 

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But in a cruel twist of fate, Lelush’s apparent reluctance to work has resonated with viewers who suffer from China’s stressful overwork culture.

Taking pleasure in watching Lelush’s seemingly miserable rise to stardom, his fans organized to vote for him against his will, going as far as putting up billboard adverts in big cities to drum up support for the Russian. Their support managed to keep Lelush on the show through its finale on Saturday.

A slew of idol shows modeled after programs in South Korea have taken China by the storm in recent years. Chuang 2021, produced by the Chinese tech giant Tencent, was the first one with multinational recruits, with contestants from countries including the United States, Japan, and Thailand.

It was a coincidence that Lelush became part of the talent show. He was studying Mandarin in China when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last year and prevented him from returning to Russia, according to an interview of his agent Ivan Wang by Chinese outlet Yuli.

Before filming started for Chuang 2021 on an artificial island on the island province of Hainan, Wang, a Hong Kong businessman, asked Lelush to be a Chinese language teacher for two Japanese contestants under Wang’s company.

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Once Lelush arrived on the island, however, producers saw star potential in the Russian and convinced him to join the show. Lelush agreed because he wanted to “try a new life,” he said in interviews.

Lelush

Lelush says he is happy to get off work after losing the contest. Photo: Weibo

He soon regretted the decision, as he and 89 other contestants, made to stay in cramped dormitories and banned from using mobile phones, started a four-month competition for 11 spots in a boy group. It’s unclear what penalties he would face if he chose to quit early, but viewers speculate that Lelush could not afford to drop out because of contractual obligations.

“Singing and dancing every day,” Lelush said in the beginning of the show. “I’m really exhausted. I regret it a bit.”

When he was put in “Class F,” indicating his dancing and singing abilities were among the worst, he said, “F stands for ‘freedom,’ meaning I should go home.” 

But this reluctance is exactly what made Lelush popular. 

On social media, fans share memes of Lelush’s miserable life being an emerging pop star. Many say they see themselves in the life of the Russian man, as they too are trapped in exploitative contracts, forced to take jobs that they don’t like, and are looking for every chance to slack at work.

Tainn Na, a Shenzhen-based entertainment vlogger, said many of Lelush’s voters were taking joy in gaining control of another person’s working life. “People are not able to get off work because of their own bosses,” she said. “On this show, they became bosses and were able to exploit others. They could experience the fun of being capitalists themselves.” 

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Some social media users say they like Lelush because his refusal to work hard is a symbol of ordinary people’s passive resistance to social pressure to keep up.

Lelush airport

Lelush is surrounded by fans as he leaves the airport of Haikou, Hainan province on Monday. Photo courtesy of Lydia Lyu

None of that was fun for Lelush. 

“I feel so scared,” he said in an episode aired this month, after being told he ranked No. 10 before the finale. The top 11 contestants would form a pop group at the end of the show.

“I believe they [fans] will respect my desire not to join the group. I believe they know where the boundary is.”

Following the heartfelt plea, Lelush’s fan club relented and said they would stop organizing bulk-voting for the star. His ranking soon dropped to 17th. At the end of the finale aired over the weekend, Lelush, having finally lost the contest, trotted backstage.

“Thanks for everyone’s support. I finally get off work,” Lelush said in a Weibo post on Sunday.

Fans congratulated him on the loss, but many say they still feel sad to see him go.

“Lelush finally got off work, but I still need to go to work tomorrow,” a commentator said.

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.