On “The Glee Project,” 12 finalists (whittled down from 40,000) compete to be on “Glee.” In the coming leadership turnover in China, 70% of the ruling cabinet will be replaced. OK: the kids worry mostly about sore throats and catty remarks, while China’s future leaders confront brutal income inequality, rampant corruption, energy scarcity and environmental destruction. But I see similarities. And not just that Party members get purged and these kids get cut.
As it’s not just about singing on “Glee” (though you’d think at first it would be), rising to power isn’t just about leadership ability. Nor is it dancing on “Glee”–which is to say, ability to jockey politically. Personality matters, “It”-ness. You need (as the “Glee Project” producer explains) to be “someone viewers will want to watch and love every week.” China’s next leaders must project an appealing life story–with charisma, the common touch (as Wen Jiabao is said to do).
Ethnic issues come into play. “Glee” fans know the show covers its bases (Jewish, gay, African-American, Asian-American, Latina, overweight, handicapped–we saw the Irish-accent guy’s advantage early on). Likewise with China’s emerging leadership–though there’s more tokenism with just a couple of rising leaders’ gender & ethnic diversity.
–Leaders must survive intra-Party elections : Contestants survive being pitted against one another.
–China’s emerging leaders must be distributed among the leading factions, elitist and populist : “Glee” contestants must likewise bring balance (classically-trained NYC sopranos, self-taught street toughs).
–Being a protege confers advantages in a system built partly on patron-client ties : Being the producer, choreographer or singing coach’s favorite helps (though in neither case offers a guarantee).
–Chinese politics favors so-called “princelings,” sons of Party powerful : “Glee Project” featured LA show biz veterans.
–In a financally integrated world, trade experience is valuable : In a licensing-driven world, contestants’ crossover appeal is valuable (Broadway, branded merchandise, stadium events, Christmas specials).
Playing the ukelele isn’t running the world’s second biggest military and financial powerhouse. Hitting a high-B flat isn’t like facing down natural disasters, coal mine fiascos, counterfeiting, a real-estate bubble. But being a star in a 24/7, Twitter-fed, market-driven, always-close-up world possesses multifaceted dynamics of a sort Barbra Streisand never knew. China’s profound challenges are 360-degree and ever-emerging and will demand so much more of its rising generation than would have been required just a few years ago.