Why you’re going to love BBC’s The Voice!

by Gerard McGarry

Daniel Cohen wrote a piece for us yesterday about the hypocrisy of the BBC and the judges on The Voice. In his post, Daniel pointed out that the media are mostly approaching this as an exercise in knocking Simon Cowell down a peg or two.

I thought for a bit of fun, I’d take my right to reply. I’ve been blogging about reality TV talent competitions since 2005, and The Voice’s US incarnation is the first reality show to get me genuinely excited in years. So what you’re going to read here is my attempt to tell Daniel why I think the British public are going to love The Voice. Most of this will be based on what I’ve seen on the US version of the show and what I expect to see on the UK version.

The Freak Factor

Daniel, you mentioned Tom Jones’ comments that there would be “no freaks on their show”. I’m tired of the zany auditionees anyway. And by including them, producers always leave themselves open to charges that they’re taking advantage of vulnerable people. Look at drug addicts and prostitutes auditioning for X Factor and having their lives torn apart in the press. As for Susan Boyle and Paul Potts, precisely the advantage of The Voice is that they would never have been judged on their looks in the first place.

The Voice cuts out all the public auditions nonsense and invites seasoned performers onto the show. It’s not a perfect format, and there are still a few rough vocalists who get through, but I’ve been astounded at the quality of singers coming through on The Voice. Literally got goosebumps from some of the singers. I don’t mind the show doing invitation-only auditions if it means I get to listen to singers who can actually sing.

Why The Voice is so fresh and exciting

Well, as I mentioned on Twitter, it’s brilliant fun for the family. Here’s some of the things my family love about The Voice:

  1. The suspense! Will the coaches turn their chairs around? Will it be one coach or will more than one turn around, maybe all four? If more than one coach turns, then that puts the power in the contestants’ hands: they get to pick the coach they want!
  2. Watching excitement turn to desperation: Because the judges can only fill a certain quota of places on their teams, they become more picky as the series progresses. So when a confident performer bursts onto the stage, they’re full of enthusiasm, but the longer it takes the coaches to turn around, the more desperate they become. You can actually see if reflected in their performances, especially when it’s clear the coaches are rejecting them.
  3. Watching the coaches try to persuade contestants to come on their team: If more than one coach turns for a contestant, then the singer gets to choose which coach will best represent them. And so you have these famous singers almost begging an unknown performer to take them. It’s a nice turn around and it shows that the coaches have to think carefully about how they’re going to advise their team members!
  4. Battle Rounds! In order to shortlist their teams, there’s another round of performances. But the singers compete against their own team members: so two singers from Tom Jones’ team will do a sing-off against each other in a boxing-ring themed stage. While the other judges get to comment on the performance, Tom will have to choose which singer to keep and which to reject.
  5. Social media! The show is perfect for social media, and you know how we love to tweet our support (and snarky comments) about reality TV contestants! In the US, they’re using hashtags like #TeamBlake or #TeamXtina so fans can show their support, and the judges tweet profusely about their contestants.

Simon Cowell needs the competition

I’ve been disappointed by Simon Cowell’s franchises for the last couple of years. The X Factor, while still retaining a massive audience, is nose-diving in terms of quality. Last year’s Frankie Cocozza debacle showed that the programme was favouring scandal and tabloid-fodder rather than actual singing ability. I lost interest in X Factor halfway through the live shows last year, and I avoided Britain’s Got Talent altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of a star being chosen from the great unwashed public. But for that we have to wade through weeks of lame auditions and woeful karaoke. What makes it worse is when you get to the live rounds and realise half the bad acts still made it through: Frankie “Can’t Sing” Cocozza and Johnny Robinson. I honestly do worry that The X Factor is dumbing down our perception of a good vocal performance.

And it seems disingenuous to claim the BBC is gunning for ITV. After all, didn’t Simon Cowell admit that he poached Alesha Dixon for Britain’s Got Talent, precisely after Strictly Come Dancing bested X Factor in the ratings last year? And despite launching BGT in April for the last two years, ITV has decided to launch on 24th March this year. Why? Because that’s the same date that The Voice premieres, and they don’t want to give the BBC’s rival show a three week advantage, do they?

And of course the BBC needs to differentiate The Voice from The X Factor. As a matter of fact, Simon Cowell had to spend a lot of time convincing the American audience that his show was different to American Idol. If you’re launching a singing competition, you generally need to convince people why your show is worth watching. I think The Voice is significantly different. It’s exciting, it’s fresh, it’s got a healthy competitive vibe, positive judging, and singers who’ve got experience. Viewers can expect a quality musical experience. They can expect to be entertained!

I’ll be watching The Voice this year!

So BGT is going to run in direct competition with The Voice this year? Well, ITV just made my decision for me – I missed Britain’s Got Talent last year and the world didn’t end. Rather than tune in to Simon Cowell making his tired old comments and playing his pantomime suspense games, I’ll be tuning in to what promises to be a proper singing competition.

I’d love to know what our readers will be watching this year – will you be tuning in to Britain’s Got Talent as usual, or will you be taking a chance on a fresh new singing competition? Leave me a comment!

PS. Get involved in the discussion between Gerard (@gerrybot) and Daniel (@divinevarod) on Twitter!

Gerard McGarry is a jet-setting, world-renowned Reality TV critic. In real life, Gerard works with web and social media strategy. His personal blog is at GerardMcGarry.com or follow him on Twitter @gerrybot