The Voice makes X Factor and the rest seem noble by comparison, says Austin Laike.


Illustration Jade Spranklen


It almost goes without saying – that the BBC’s X Factor antidote, The Voice, has turned out to be as effective as cleaning a sewage pipe with a bucket of diarrhoea. Nobody could have expected it to be quite this chronically flawed, though.

The prime time talent show blueprint remains one that fans of underground music will forever long to kindle with its architect Simon Cowell and light. It’s an easy target, so much so that you’re now considered a snob and a bad sport if you don’t get on board the juggernaut and ride it all the way to the top of the Billboard Chart with One Direction. Their phenomenal success certainly is a feather in the cap of “finding real talent” via these kinds of shows, or at least accomplishing hysterical success that has belonged in popular music since The Beatles at JFK. So well done them, and fair play X Factor – you’re clearly not going anywhere; we’ve accepted that now. But The Voice? Come on – this is Britain’s Got Talent with spinning chairs.

“It’s all about the voice!” That’s my problem. Leading up to its launch, you couldn’t change the channel for someone involved with the show plugging how, “it’s not about anything but the voice, no sob stories, not what they look like, just how they sing”. It’s a USP (Unique Selling Point, in business speak – a term the creators of the show perhaps even invented) that’s regurgitated in The Voice’s opening credits each week. The thing is, it’s complete bollocks.

Week one, contestant one: a young lady tells in her short intro film of how she’s bullied at school and music is her escape. Next: a slightly older woman has suffered from alopecia from an early age. Then: this guy used to be in boy band 5ive. All genuinely sad in their own way, yes, but it’s already not all about the voice. On top of this, we, the public, have now seen these people, so the looks thing is out of the window too, and I’m guessing if The Voice is to make any money at all it’s going to be us who vote for the winner. Even for the judges (sorry, ‘coaches’ – another revolutionary USP), they only don’t look at the contestants for one song. Put simply, The Voice’s big gimmick lasts 120 seconds. Then it’s another singing contest that looks a hell of a lot like the one it’s taken the moral high ground against.

Simon Cowell is no saint, but the idea that the first round of The X Factor is the hardest unless you look like the finished article is absurd – if anything, they love a fixer-upper. This man gave us Susan Boyle.

Script singer (and ‘coach’ number four) Danny O’Donoghue inadvertently damned the concept of The Voice most brilliantly on its first broadcast, though. None of the coaches had spun around for a particularly attractive female singer. When they did to thank her for coming, he banged his fist. “Damn! I knew I should have pressed my button!”

By Austin Laike

Originally published in issue 37 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. April 2012

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