Originally published here.
On the face of it, The Voice UK is doing something unique and admirable as a talent show – picking its finalists purely on the basis of one selected talent, rather than their general marketability. Basically, if they can sing, the rest of it doesn’t matter. Hurrah, hurrah. Defying the norms, backing the underdogs, EQUALITY FOR ALL, DROP THE MIC.
But that’s not how it plays out, is it? Riddle me this: if the show is all about The Voice, then why does the real celebration happen when the judge turns and sees The Face he or she wants?
More often than not, they don’t even take that chance. The second someone with a sexy, mature voice gets on the stage, you can almost see Will.I.Am flick the NO switch in his head. No matter how beautiful the sound, there’s no way he’s going to risk weighing down his team with an old woman, a cruise ship singer, a wannabe who was already a has-been before she opened her mouth. Not a chance. Luckily for Will, the judging panel has Tom Jones as the scape goat, occupying the role of Woman Whisperer. With his grey hair and cool demeanor, he’s not there for the breathy teens. He’s there to gather his coterie of older women (read: anyone over 25). Equality for all.
Not all the blame lies with Will. You can practically see Ricky salivate when he turns for a skinny teen. Not for anything salacious, you understand – but because he knows what sells.
The kicker of it all is that when contestants who don’t fit the expected mold accidentally make it into the team, they actually stand a pretty good chance of winning. We, as the voting audience, are suckers for a good underdog. Leanne Mitchell? Andrea Begley? Twice now we’ve proved the format – that we care more about the voice than the look. Of course, the industry tore them both to shreds. Sorry about that guys. Welcome to our fabulous real world.
Turning our attentions to competing shows for a minute, the deficiencies in The Voice are even clearer (not that any of them should be winning prizes for originality). Because who won the last X Factor? Sam Bailey, mother of two, prison guard, basically the antithesis of Ellie Goulding. Britain’s Got Talent’s biggest success story is an awkward Scotswoman whose appearance on the stage made Simon Cowell visibly wince. So if talent shows without the gimmick are doing a better job at providing exposure and opportunities to the outliers, then what the hell is the point of The Voice? And how can they do better?
I’ve actually got a fecking brilliant suggestion, and it is this: the judges never get to see their acts. Never. There’s no reveal; no opportunity for prejudice to be writ large on their shiny faces. Not until the face of the winner graces the front of albums. In fact, they have bags over their heads, tied at the neck, with little holes for their tiny, annoying opinions to leak through. Looks never come into it, and all they have is the Voice. I’d watch this. I’d love it. Make it happen, BBC. Of course, that won’t fix the problems with the music industry. But it’s a better idea than a spinning chair. I have seen the future of music television, and it is this: radio.