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Humans Need Not Apply: This New TV Talent Contest is for Virtual Idols Only

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Chinese streaming platform iQIYI has announced that it’s launching the country’s first-ever “virtual idol variety show,” in a move that’s somehow both pretty out-there and oddly predictable.

Entitled Dimension Nova, the new show will feature “more than 30 virtual competitors [navigating] a series of competitions and challenges to select the final winner.”

Helping ease the psychological impact of us all slipping toward a virtual idol-dominated future will be boring-old-human judges Esther Yu from THE9 (a pop group created by another of China’s myriad variety shows), Wang Linkai (of THE9’s boyband predecessors Nine Percent) and it-girl Angelababy. It’s not clear whether the trio were chosen because they could all feasibly pass for being computer-generated celebrities or because they’ve struck some sort of deal with their eventual VR overlords to be spared in the coming idol wars.

dimension nova virtual idol variety show tv china iqiyi angelababy

iQIYI, the network behind successful manufactured music contest The Rap of China and its rock equivalent The Big Band, are keen to trumpet the efficiency gains from not having to deal with many actual humans in the making of this new show. An official press release excitedly mentions things such as a “full 3D virtual environment” and a “non-linear production process.”

The press release goes on to warn that, “iQIYI believes that these innovative production techniques will be the driving forces behind the rise of virtual idol-based variety shows.”

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Following in the virtual footsteps of pioneers such as Hatsune Miku, digital influencers and computer-generated pop stars have been growing in popularity in China in recent years. Not all such projects have met with positive responses however — the Communist Youth League’s attempt to introduce a pair of virtual idols had to be abandoned before it even launched, for example, after the idea was torn apart on social media.

Yet in many ways, Dimension Nova feels like the logical next step for the country’s virtual idols. No release date has been set for the show so far, but expect it to start streaming in the next couple of weeks.

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.