BEIJING Chinese officials defended their decision to pass off the voice of a 7-year-old songbird as that of another girl at the Olympic opening ceremony, calling it a simple casting choice. Critics said it was a step too far in China's obsession with the perfect Olympic Games.
Beijing organizers of the games faced tough criticism Wednesday after a whistleblower revealed that the 9-year-old who performed a song during the spectacular opening ceremony was lip-synching to another girl's vocal track.
Yang Peiyi, a 7-year-old with bright eyes and a smile made crooked by the stubs of her first grown-up teeth, was heard by an audience estimated in the billions during Friday night's ceremony, singing "Ode to the Motherland."
But they never saw her face.
Organizers passed the song off as being sung by Lin Miaoke, another perky schoolgirl who donned a sparkly red dress and soared on wires above the 91,000-strong crowd at the Bird's Nest stadium.
Beijing officials on Wednesday defended the decision to use both girls, saying the artistic directors could cast whoever they saw fit. And they were unapologetic about keeping the lip-synch a secret.
"There were a number of candidates to sing that song and at the end of the day the artistic directors picked the best voice and the best performer," Beijing organizing committee spokesman Sun Weide said.
Wang Wei, executive vice president of the organizing committee, said the job of the ceremony's directors was "to achieve the most theatrical effect."
"I don't see there is anything wrong with it if everybody concerned agrees," he said.
But the world's press ridiculed the move on front pages from Romania to Australia.
"The counterfeit Games: designed to look good from every angle," said a headline in The Times of London. The Daily Telegraph urged organizers of the 2012 London Games to "bring some sanity and proportion back to both the opening ceremony and the games themselves."
In Spain, one newspaper called it "Olympic karaoke." A commentator for The Age newspaper in Australia called it "the great Beijing lip-synch switcheroo" and news on the incident was headlined "China's wrong child policy." The Romanian daily 7Plus ran this on its front page: "Hoax! Made in China."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jill Rosen said the switch was hardly the first case of lip-synching, but was "possibly the cruelest."
New York Magazine called on record executives to give Peiyi a record deal, saying "She's 7! She has buckteeth! She is adorable!"
The Chinese leadership consider the Beijing Olympics a matter of national prestige and the opening extravaganza, attended by a host of leaders including President Bush, was intended to wow the world.
"Our president may have gone there just to watch the games. The Chinese leadership does not take that view," said Andrew Nathan, political science department chairman at Columbia University. "They want to send a message ... the message of flawless execution."
He said reports that a top official from China's highest decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, demanded Miaoke's voice be dubbed at the last minute "shows once again how political the sponsorship of the Olympics is for the Chinese."
The secret of Peiyi was revealed Sunday by the ceremony's musical director Chen Qigang in a radio interview. He said a senior Politburo member had said after the final dress rehearsal that Miaoke's voice was not good enough and that Peiyi did not look right.
Chen, a French national, told AP Television News he felt compelled to "to come out with the truth." Peiyi was "a magnificent singer" who "doesn't deserve to be hidden," he said, declining to comment further.
The parents of both girls said separately Wednesday they did not want their daughters to speak to the media, and said each felt privileged just to have taken part.
But many Chinese said Peiyi deserves the spotlight, and some suggested organizers find a place for her in the games closing ceremony Aug. 24.
"This is pretty unfair for the girl who was not picked to perform live," said Cui Fengsi, a Beijing driver-for-hire in comments typical of several people who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday, and of numerous blog posts. "This girl has a great voice and they should recognize that she deserves to be seen. She should definitely perform at the closing ceremonies."
Officials sought to avoid the idea that Peiyi did not appear because she was judged to be not cute enough, suggesting instead that the two girls were a sum greater than their parts.
One International Olympic Committee member, Gilbert Felli, likened the decision to a coach benching one player in favor of another.
"If your son is playing on a football team, suddenly the coach may decide that he's not playing, he's going to stay on the bench," Felli said. "That's what it is in sport, and in life."
But he added, "The right information has to be given to the people."
Wang Liping, one of Peiyi's tutors, posted photos of the girl on her blog because she wanted the world to know the face behind the voice.
One photo shows a pretty girl in a white dress with a pink clip in her hair. She appears to be losing her milk teeth, and her new front teeth are only partially grown, and angled slightly. Another shows her rosy-cheeked with fluffy pink toy bunny ears.
Wang said Peiyi was backstage during the opening ceremony and recognized her voice when she heard the song.
Miaoke's father, Lin Hui, said both girls are cute but he agreed that Peiyi's voice was "a bit better" than his daughter's. He said both girls played important roles, but the organizers should have made clear who was singing.
"Letting everybody know is a must," he told the AP.