A Russian model, stuck in a Chinese TV show
The man behind #FreeLelush
Multilingual talent
Moving to China
Then came 'Produce Camp 2021’
He was a translator for ‘Produce Camp 2021’
Scouted as a contestant
Tricked into participating as an idol?
Unique on-stage namesake
Unenthusiastic performances
He said he wanted to leave every chance he got
Fans kept voting him in
Audience of 'Produce Camp 2021' found Vladislav’s attitude amusing
Producers and hosts took jabs at Vladislav
Fellow contestant Andy Shamray pleaded on his behalf
Russians campaigning for Vladislav on social media
Finally free!
Celebratory run that went viral
Tough love from fans
#FreeLelush and the ethics of idol competitions and contracts
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The amazing story of a Russian man who got trapped in a Chinese talent show
(1/21)
A Russian model, stuck in a Chinese TV show

Did you know the story of the Russian guy who got entangled in a Chinese talent show? Well, it's true, and this is the 'victim': Vladislav Ivanov, also known as Lelush. He was trapped for months in the Chinese Talent TV show 'Produce Camp 2021.'

(Image: Tencent)

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The man behind #FreeLelush

Vladislav Ivanov was born on 23 January 1994 in Vladivostok, Russia. He studied at Russia’s Far Eastern Federal University in the Department of Economics.

(Image: bogatcio on Instagram)

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Multilingual talent

Other than his native Russian, Vladislav Ivanov is also fluent in English and Mandarin.

(Image: Tencent)

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Moving to China

Vladislav first visited China in 2010, where he studied the Chinese language at Fudan University in 2013. Vladislav Ivanov’s mastery of the Chinese language was impeccable and this helped him earn full-time work as a translator in China.

(Image: bogatcio on Instagram)

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Then came 'Produce Camp 2021’

‘Produce Camp 2021’ is a competitive reality show and the brainchild of China’s Tencent. The series is based on the South Korean show ‘Produce 101’ by CJ E&M.

In ‘Produce Camp 2021’, a group of men from international backgrounds is isolated on China’s Hainan Island. There, they compete to debut in an international boy band. The fates of the candidates depend on an online voting system.

(Image: Tencent)

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He was a translator for ‘Produce Camp 2021’

Vladislav initially worked as a translator and tutor on ‘Produce Camp 2021’, Russia Today reports. His job was to translate for and teach mandarin to fellow KING Holdings agency mates, Hanyuda Amu and Kiuchi Yujin.

(Image: Tencent)

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Scouted as a contestant

However, the organizers of ‘Produce Camp 2021’ found themselves short on contestants. Thinking that Vladislav would be a good fit due to his looks, they offered the then-translator a job on the show. When presenting him with this position as a stand-in contestant, they asked Vladislav "if he’d like to try a new life."

(Image: Tencent)

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Tricked into participating as an idol?

As Russia Today reported, Vladislav accepted the offer without reading the fine print of the contract. He thought that life as an idol would be temporary. In fact, he assumed that he would be booted off the show quickly.

(Image: Tencent)

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Unique on-stage namesake

As a contestant, Vladislav took on ‘Lelush’ as his stage name. He did so primarily to protect his privacy by separating his on-screen life from his actual person. The name is a homage to his favorite anime character Lelouch Lamperouge, from ‘Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion’.

(Image: MBS, Tencent)

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Unenthusiastic performances

To increase his chances of getting voted out of the competition, Vladislav, or Lelush, deliberately made a minimal effort during his performances. As he was unable to leave by himself, due to his contractual obligations, he hoped that his poor attitude would cause audiences to not vote for him and, as such, kick him out of the competition.

(Image: Tencent)

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He said he wanted to leave every chance he got

Vladislav was open about his desire to leave the competition. He said that "becoming a member of a boy band is not my dream, as I can’t sing and dance." The South China Morning Post cites the idol in saying: "I hope the judges won’t support me. While the others want to get an A, I want to get an F: it stands for freedom."

(Image: bogatcio on Instagram)

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Fans kept voting him in

To his dismay, Vladislav ended up staying in the program longer than expected. He even managed to become one of the 25 finalists in 'Produce Camp 2021.'

(Image: Tencent)

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Audience of 'Produce Camp 2021' found Vladislav’s attitude amusing

However, his actions and words had the opposite effect, as fans of ‘Produce Camp 2021’ found them amusing. Not only did they constantly vote to keep Vladislav in, but they also created memes to poke fun at his situation.

(Image: Tencent)

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Producers and hosts took jabs at Vladislav

At every opportunity, producers and hosts of the show would take jabs at Vladislav. They gave him false hope, suggested that he had not gotten enough votes to stay, and then told the reluctant idol that the opposite was true and that he had to continue in the show.

(Image: Tencent)

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"Unfair to other contestants"

On one of these occasions, when Vladislav was once again voted into the remaining group, the young man gave a speech. He called the decision unfair to other contestants who were given the boot, as he felt they were much more deserving of the position than he was.

(Image: Tencent)

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Fellow contestant Andy Shamray pleaded on his behalf

Fellow contestant Andy Shamray pleaded on Vladislav’s behalf by asking audiences to stop voting for the reluctant idol and to let him go home. He also called out producers and audiences of ‘Produce Camp 2021’ for forcing Vladislav to remain in the competition against his will.

(Image: andrey__shamray, producecamp2021 on Instagram)

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Russians campaigning for Vladislav on social media

According to Russia Today, Vladislav’s plight struck a sympathetic chord amongst many Russians. They trended the hashtag “#FreeLelush” on social media, demanding Vladislav be released from the show. They called the situation inhumane and "absurd," as the show’s organizers and fans consistently disrespected Vladislav’s wishes to leave by voting him in and trivializing his plight.

(Image: Tencent)

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Finally free!

After three grueling months in the show, Vladislav’s wish finally came true. At the end of April 2021, he failed to meet voting quotas and was left out of the final line-up. Local observers claimed that this was an orchestrated move by his Chinese fans: they had insisted on pushing Vladislav to the finals, but once he was in, they all stopped voting.

(Image: producecamp2021 on Instagram)

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Celebratory run that went viral

As soon as he realized he was out, Vladislav made a run to the show's backstage area. Clips of Vladislav doing his celebratory run went viral on Weibo and Douyin (China’s version of TikTok), with captions like "Lelush is finally off work!"

(Image: Tencent, Weibo)

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Tough love from fans

The rationale of Vladislav’s Chinese fans was to help the unenthusiastic idol gain popularity on the show so that he could build his career as a model in China - something they thought he really wanted. Unfortunately for his fans, Vladislav chose not to remain in China and instead decided to return home to Russia, says The Guardian.

(Image: bogatcio on Instagram)

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#FreeLelush and the ethics of idol competitions and contracts

Although Vladislav’s story had a happy ending, his plight called attention to the ethics of reality shows. Their moral problems involve not only the strict rules and contracts of idol competitions but also something that the New York Post described as the ‘schadenfreude-driven’ fan culture of the Chinese idol world. It was this culture that forced a man to unwillingly remain in a competition for months.

(Image: Tencent)

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