Jane Zhang, known in China as Zhang Liangying, has made headlines again after being recruited for a big budget tourism campaign by Brand USA.
The once-timid girl, who shot to superstardom in a national singing competition, has transformed into the “Dolphin Princess” of C-pop with millions of fans across the globe.
Zhang has been filming in Las Vegas, New York and San Francisco for the campaign, set to be called “Feel the USA”, as Brand USA has turned to Zhang to turn around a slump in Chinese tourists. After growing 16 per cent or more annually in recent years, Chinese arrivals to the United States fell six per cent in 2018 and another three per cent in the first six months of this year.
The Chengdu, Sichuan-born singer rose to fame after finishing third in the popular Super Girl singing competition in 2005, a televised contest that aims to discover gifted singing talent. When Zhang entered the competition, she had no idea that it would change her life.
Zhang was born on October 11, 1984 to Zhang Huaqing, a truck driver, and Zhang Guiying, a shop assistant. Zhang’s father died when she was 15 and her mother was laid off from her job. So Zhang started looking for work to contribute to the household expenses and eventually got a singing gig at a local pub.
“I always liked music as a child, I would sing and dance to the music they play in the streets,” the singer said in a video made for the Super Girl competition. “My aunt’s husband played the keyboard in a band, so I’d watch him practice – that really helped with my musicality and intonation.”
Being able to perform in Chinese as well as English, Japanese, Spanish and French gave her an advantage over the other contestants. She said that her idol is American singer and songwriter Mariah Carey, who is noted for her five-octave vocal range and signature whistle register.
“When I first started singing Mariah’s songs, I didn’t quite understand what I was singing about, but I could memorise every single detail of her songs,” Zhang said in 2015.
Zhang can also sing in five octaves and hit the whistle note range. Although she mostly sings Chinese pop songs, she occasionally showcases a wider versatility by performing different genres, from jazz to opera.
After weeks of excellent performances, Zhang advanced to the national final with nine other finalists selected from the 120,000 contestants. The live showdown attracted 400 million viewers who decided the winner via SMS text voting. Zhang came in third with 1.35 million votes.
While Zhang didn’t win the popular vote, she was the success story of the 2005 competition, and career in the entertainment industry continued to flourish.
She signed with Huayi Music soon after Super Girl, and launched her own music label in December that year. In 2006, Zhang sold more than one million copies of her debut studio album, “The One”, in China. Her second studio album in 2007, “Update”, became one of the bestselling albums of that year in China.
She also performed the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games theme song One World, One Dream, a duet with Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli.
Zhang switched to Universal Music Group in 2009. She founded her own management company, Beijing-based Show City Times, around that time.
In May 2009, she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and performed two Chinese songs for a US audience for the first time.
Zhang released her fourth and fifth studio albums with Universal Music: “Believe In Jane” in 2010 and “Reform” in 2011, both of which enjoyed commercial success.
In 2014, Zhang moved to Sony Music Entertainment and released her sixth studio album, “The Seventh Sense”. Soon after, Zhang started to test the overseas market with her English song Dust My Shoulders Off which was released in 2016.
By this stage, Zhang had become a national superstar and a frequently appeared on the annual Forbes China celebrity lists. The local government of her hometown Chengdu estimated the market value of the goods and services she had produced in 2016 to be around 154.6 million $.
The year also marked a milestone in Zhang’s personal life – the songstress married her boyfriend of 12 years, Michael Feng (Feng Ke). He is 14 years her senior and headed Zhang’s Show City Times music label at the time.
In 2017, Zhang started to make more international appearances. She was the first Chinese female artist to attend the Billboard Music Awards in the US, where she performed Dust My Shoulders Off, and was invited to perform at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in Shanghai. In April 2019, after several attempts at breaking into the overseas market, Zhang finally released her first English album under her own label, titled “Past Progressive”.
At the age of 35, Zhang seems destined to continue delivering hits to her fans all over the world.
As she once told Oprah: “I didn’t really want to become a star but there is one thing I’m pretty sure of: when I’m on the stage, when I hold the microphone and sing, I feel so real and so special.”
Although its popularity is slightly decreasing, Jane continues to regularly release songs associated with original artistic video clips.