One little girl had the looks. The other had the voice. So in a last-minute move demanded by one of China's highest officials, the two were put together for the Olympic opening ceremony, with one lip-synching "Ode to the Motherland" over the other's singing, the AP reported.
The real singer, 7-year-old Yang Peiyi, with her chubby face and crooked baby teeth, wasn't good looking enough for the ceremony, its chief music director told state-owned Beijing Radio.
So the pigtailed Lin Miaoke, a veteran of television ads, mouthed the words with a pixie smile for a stadium of 91,000 and a worldwide TV audience. "I felt so beautiful in my red dress," the tiny 9-year-old told the China Daily newspaper.
Peiyi later told China Central Television that just having her voice used was an honor.
It was the latest example of the lengths the image-obsessed China is taking to create a perfect Summer Games.
In a brief phone interview with AP Television News on Tuesday night, the music director, Chen Qigang, said he spoke about the switch with Beijing Radio "to come out with the truth."
"The little girl is a magnificent singer," Chen said. "She doesn't deserve to be hidden." He said the ceremony's director, film director Zhang Yimou, knew of the change. He declined to speak further about it.
China has been eager to present a flawless Olympics face to the world, shooing thousands of migrant workers from the city and shutting down any sign of protest.
The country's quest for perfection apparently includes its children.
A member of China's Politburo asked for the last-minute change during a live rehearsal shortly before the ceremony, Chen said in the Beijing Radio interview, posted online Sunday night. He didn't name the official.
During the live rehearsal, the Politburo member said Miaoke's voice "must change," Chen said.
"We had to make that choice. It was fair both for Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi," Chen told Beijing Radio. "We combined the perfect voice and the perfect performance."
"The audience will understand that it's in the national interest," Chen added.
He said he felt a responsibility to explain to the country what happened but on Tuesday the link to the video on the Beijing Radio Web site no longer worked.
Miaoke's performance Friday night, like the ceremony itself, was an immediate hit. "Nine-year-old Lin Miaoke becomes instant star with patriotic song," the China Daily newspaper headline said.
Zhang, China's most famous film director, was asked at a post-ceremony news conference about the little girl who swung on wires high above the Bird's Nest National Stadium during the performance.
"She is a lovely girl and she sings well," Zhang said, according to a transcript posted on the Beijing organizing committee's web site.