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The Voice

I usually don’t get on well with reality TV. Typically because the only real thing about them is that they feature someone in a position of authority bullying some sort of supplicant, be they a jungle dwelling media-idiot, a fat person trying to lose weight or some sort of awful parody of a businessman. I especially dislike X-Factor style shows. Not only does it reinforce the myth that everyone in arts wants to be a superstar1, it’s actively cruel, and is mostly an exercise in cramming square pegs into round holes.

So it was with some reluctance that I turned on BBC’s The Voice, expecting it to be yet another bit of awful exploitation of people’s hopes and dreams. Still, I thought, it’s got Tom Jones in it. He tends to be a sane voice when it comes to talking about music, and entertaining in general. Maybe it’ll be okay. I was wrong, of course. It’s not just okay, it’s remarkable.

The format, for those who’ve not seen it, begins with blind auditions of those who want to boost their career as singers. They are four judges, two of whom you’ve heard of, one of whom you’ll recognise when you check out his profile out and go “oh, the Black Eyed Peas” and Danny O’Donoghue.3. They listen to the artist, and only turn round if they’re willing to put them on their team.

The show’s logo, however, is less than good. It’s like all the pop-stars formed a red army or something.

Once the four judges have assembled a team of artists, they then put those artists in a boxing ring, where they sing at each other, in a surreal (yet entertaining) version of a gladiatorial match. Finally, after all that, the artists are thrown to the wolves. By which I mean a public vote. Because it’s a reality TV show and they have to make money from it somehow.

The novelty, however, is not the format. (Which comes from the Netherlands). It’s the fact that the show does not pretend that most of these artists have been pulled off the streets and thrust into stardom. Instead, almost all of the contestants have had some level of experience trying to become singers; these are people at the start of their careers, who are getting a massive boost by appearing on national television.

The show isn’t about selling you a dream of having superstardom thrust upon you, rather it’s about talent and hard work, as well as public participation. Whereas similar shows claim to be about training the next generation of artists (but are actually about letting the public throw peanuts at aspiring artists), The Voice is about the music, rather than the fame, and not only raises the bar for reality TV shows, it actually raises the bar for being a person, if only by a little bit. Let’s hope it stays this positive in future series.


1: If you sing, write or dance for just the money, it’s highly likely that you’ve chosen poorly. None of these things are easy, though of course, the professionals make it all look effortless. To encourage someone to get into the arts in order to be a superstar is the wrong approach entirely.
2: Seems to me that the general public has finally noticed that Simon Cowell really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Possibly this is that he’s very good a playing the role of someone who can talent spot, even though the results of his talent spotting where incredibly pedestrian. The current gossip about the man is all sex scandal, which tends to be death rattle of the talentless.
3: Honestly, who? I mean he seems nice and his heart appears to be in the right place (by which I mean I don’t think he’s a Timelord), but seriously, who is he?

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Categories: TV
  1. May 8, 2012 at 11:46 am

    All good points… one thing you may want to look at for commentary on reality TV like this is Chart Throb by Ben Elton. It is not subtle in lambasting the format and the people who are involved in it and makes some good points about how it all works…

    The X Factor graduates to me all come across as bland clones of each other. As if they have a template of ‘what a pop star should look and sound like’ and they either select based on that or mould into that. Which to me sounds like the wrong way to stimulate a generation of talent. It’s like training a computer software engineer how to be a cotton mill worker because ‘that is what was popular in the past’. With that attitude you don’t get ‘the next big thing’ you merely get ‘last year’s thing warmed up a little’.

    Which is why this sounds like it has a better attitude in that it is taking people who already have an idea about what the industry is like and a firm idea of how they want to enter it and giving them a chance rather than false hope. But then it is the BBC so they have a requirement (I am sure it is written somewhere in their charter…) to do anything with more class than any other channel 🙂

  2. May 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    I’d have agreed with you about two weeks ago. The formst of the early rounds was distinctive and interesting, the positivity from the judges refreshing. It sucked us in even though we normally would run a mile from reality talent contests. But since then it has felt like just another series of knockout rounds and a lot of the distinctiveness has gone. Also the positivity is lovely but the judges seem afraid of offering more than the most tentative of criticisms, even where that would be constructive. And the results shows are utter padding masquerading as TV. It’s still surviving, as you say, on the quality of talent on show but it’s definitely palled.

  3. May 10, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Ooh we agree on something!
    People think I’m mad for my love of the Voice, but
    1) as you explain it’s really nothing like the X-factor with it’s sob stories, it’s public ridicule and all the other odious tropes
    & 2) It has the rather ridiculous Mr Will.I.Am who I’m still not convinced isn’t actually just playing the fool and will somewhere down the line reveal himself to be incredibly intelligent and nothing like his on-screen ‘dope’ persona.

    Also Danny is from the band “The Script” – one of those that you don’t ‘know’ but if you youtube/spotify there songs you’ll have heard a good few of them. [One of the pros/cons of working in radio, filling your head with this stuff :rolleyes:]

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