Talent Primer – Was That Milli Vanilli at the Beijing Olympics?

Kris Dunn Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Kris Dunn, Recognition

Was Milli Vanilli performing in spirit at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics?  Girl, you know it’s true

If given a choice when selecting talent, do you go with skills and aptitude or are you more apt to select the prettiest face? 

Right – you go with the skills, because you’re a knowledgeable broker of talent, immune to the discreet laws of attraction.  Plus, you’ve got that personal code of ethics thing going for you.  Well done.

Now, imagine you’re the program director for a major event that will be televised to a billion people.Olympics You’ve let your team handle a lot of the talent selection that includes 14,000+ performers.  You get to the day before the big event, and discover that Billy, in music casting, has a crooked-toothed kid in the lead role.

What do you do?  Fire Billy, then go get a more attractive stand-in if you are part of the Chinese Olympics.  From the Times Online (UK):

She warmed more than a billion hearts with her sweet and pure rendition of one of China’s favorite revolutionary anthems at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

As Lin Miaoke sang sweetly through Ode to the Motherland in the Bird’s Nest stadium on Friday night, an emerging superpower swelled with pride at their beautiful little songbird in her red dress and cute pigtails.

Far from being angel-voiced, it seems Miaoke was simply angel-faced, as it emerged that she did not sing a note. The real singer was Yang Peiyi, a seven-year-old deemed not pretty enough to be the face of China’s most watched moment in history.

Chubby-cheeked with crooked teeth, she was substituted at the eleventh hour by Communist Party officials desperate to present the best possible image of Chinese youth to a curious world.  After watching a rehearsal with Peiyi in the lead role, a senior member of the Politburo told Beijing Olympic organizers that they had an urgent problem that needed fixing.

The solution was to front Peiyi’s “perfect” voice with the more acceptable face of Miaoke, who had already appeared in a television advert.

“The reason why little Peiyi was not chosen to appear was because we wanted to project the right image. The reason was for the national interest,” said Chen Qigang, the renowned contemporary composer and French citizen who directed the music for the opening ceremony.

Sigh… First up, it’s sad, but it seems like this kind of stuff hits every culture.  Part of me is actually encouraged that China (still a communist state, people) has opened up enough where this thing would surface, be reported on, then have some communist official go on TV and try and defend it.  In a sick kind of "entertainment tonight" way, that’s progress.

Of course, if it were you (the talent agent for your company), this thing would have been packaged the right way. After all, the less than perfect look just smacks of authenticity and street credibility (see Little Miss Sunshine and the bumblebee girl from the Blind Melon video).

You can make that work – see the videos below.  Keep it real, FOT nation.


Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.