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Kazakh Singer Catapults To Stardom In Chinese Music Contest

Dimash Kudaibergenshot to instant fame when he won the first round of China's Singer 2017 competition.
Dimash Kudaibergenshot to instant fame when he won the first round of China's Singer 2017 competition.

Dimash Kudaibergen was a relatively unknown singer when he left home in Kazakhstan for a televised talent contest in neighboring China.

Weeks later, the 22-year-old student returned to a hero's welcome, with huge crowds of adoring fans joining government officials and television crews to greet him at the airport.

The Aqtobe native shot to instant fame when he won the first round of China's Singer 2017 competition with his performance of the French pop song S.O.S. D'un Terrien En Détresse. He then went on to win the third round on February 25.

The six-round show, aired weekly on Hunan TV from January to April, is an annual competition among professional singers. The winners are determined by audience voting.

Kudaibergen's weeks-old account on Chinese social network Weibo already has more than 244 million followers.

"My intercultural communications professor asked us what we think of 'one belt, one road,' and I almost blurted out, 'Dimash,'" Weibo user Wanna wrote in a reference to the budding Kazakh heartthrob and China's diplomatic and investment initiative to boost regional trade.

"I love you!" wrote another fan, posting several photos of the Kazakh singer on Weibo.

"When will Dimash come to perform in Guangdong?" asked Wang Feng, a Weibo user from the southeastern Chinese province.

Dimash Kudaibergen's Weibo page on March 1
Dimash Kudaibergen's Weibo page on March 1

Kudaibergen has tried to return the embrace. He said that "dreams come true" after he met Hong Kong-born actor and martial-arts superstar Jackie Chan, who the singer said gave him "some advice" and taught "some dance moves from Kung Fu Yoga."

"Today is a historical day in my life.... Famous actor Jackie Chan saw me on TV and invited to meet him," Kudaibergen told his 656,000 Instagram followers.

"The actor...told me that he follows my creative activity," Kudaibergen wrote.

He has also posted videos of crowds of Chinese fans -- most with smartphones in hands -- mobbing him in airports and outside television studios, asking for selfies and autographs.

Some Chinese businesses have already begun cashing in on Kudaibergen's fame, selling paper bags with the singer's image and "I Love You" written in Kazakh. There are already biscuits on the Chinese market that bear his name.

Kudaibergen's representatives say the singer is fielding endorsement offers in China -- a country with more than 75 times Kazakhstan's population of around 18 million people. They haven't disclosed the details, but they insist the biscuit sellers and bag makers haven't got the singer's permission to use his name and image for their products.

Dimash Kudaibergen has won several local and international music contests.
Dimash Kudaibergen has won several local and international music contests.

Kudaibergen, who is guarded about his private life, is already experiencing other downsides of the fame and media attention, too.

Some Chinese magazines have published what they say are the name and Instagram photos of Kudaibergen's longtime girlfriend, a fellow student at his alma mater, Kazakhstan's National University of Art.

Kazakh media reported that some Chinese fans even bought plane tickets to travel alongside Kudaibergen when he came home for a brief break between performances in the ongoing music competition.

Kudaibergen returned to Aqtobe with a Chinese television crew in tow who are working on a documentary film about the Kazakh singer.

At Aqtobe's airport, he was greeted by the regional governor and other officials as dozens of fans chanted his name, sang his songs, and held banners bearing his name.

Kudaibergen's musical and singing talent was reportedly spotted early by his parents, who enrolled him in a local children's music school when he was just 5 years old.

He has since won several local and international music contests, including the Slavyanskiy Bazar show in Vitsebsk, Belarus, in 2015.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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