Paving the way for scores of other Asian pop stars, Fei Xiang (費翔) was the first Taiwanese idol to perform at the annual Spring Festival Variety Show in China, nearly 20 years ago. The 1987 appearance on national television brought pop to the masses and stardom to Fei.
"Old Fei," as he refers to himself now, is back in town this weekend for two concerts at the Taipei International Convention Center.
Born Kris Philips, the 44-year-old Taiwanese-American divides his time between touring in Asia and living in New York City.
His career began in film when he returned to Taiwan after graduating from the American Dramatic Arts Academy in 1980. After three moderately successful films, he got into music and released 13 albums within eight years. Full stardom followed his Spring Festival performance in China after which he dominated the contemporary music charts for three years.
He made the move to stage acting in the early 1990s and returned to the US where he joined Andrew Lloyd Webber's touring company to perform in Miss Saigon and other shows.
His career now bounces between Broadway in the US and recording music in Asia. Whether performing for poised theatergoers, screaming middle-aged fans or a room full of journalists, Fei, like most pop idols, is adored by many.
"My audience changes depending on what I'm doing -- Broadway, pop or film. But my emotional bond is with the ones that I grew up with [fans from the mid-1980s]," he said at a press conference in Taipei last Wednesday.
His most recent performance in Taiwan was at the movie premier of Webber's Phantom of the Opera, which was screened at CKS National Concert Hall last month. The performance coincided with his latest music release, Broadway Album, in which he does a remarkable Mandarin version of the title track from Phantom.
The two-and-a-half-hour concert this weekend will span 20 years of Fei's music and will include both new and old material. To suit the different musical styles, there will be plenty of backup dancers and more than one hundred costume changes, each of which was designed by Tony Award- winning designer Roger Kirk.
In a Shanghai Star review of his current Asia tour, a reporter cited a lukewarm reception in China. "He [Fei Xiang] has adopted new music styles, which were not well received among the audience -- the younger generations don't know him well, while the older generations loved his oldies, but didn't embrace electro-music," the reporter wrote.
Commenting on the less-than-enthusiastic response to his newer pop material, Fei said, "Most of the audience is filled with fans from my past and they want to hear the old music from before [the late 1980s]. But I'm a performer and therefore I'm always changing. My audience has expanded because my music style changes, but not everything I do is going to appeal to everyone."
Reviews aside, he is receiving a warm homecoming. As of press time, 90 percent of the tickets for both shows had been sold.
The only thing missing at the show will be a strand of Fei's chest hair. It was removed recently on a popular evening television program and later auctioned on eBay.
The admirable yet strange contribution raised NT$155,000 to be donated to tsunami victims in Southeast Asia. The winner was a no-show, however, and if the second highest bidder does not pay up, the hair will back on the market.