The idea is simple: four industry legends unite to blindly select hopeful contestants based on talent alone, mentoring them to superstardom. It’s a show about not judging a book by its cover, openly embracing people of all backgrounds and leaving your ridicule and prejudice at the door.
So why have the first few episodes of The Voice season three left me feeling more cynical than sweet?
Along with the other 2.15 million viewers who tuned into Channel Nine on Sunday night, I held high hopes for the show’s fresh set of judges (regulars Joel Madden and Ricky Martin are joined by songbird Kylie Minogue and US hip-hop icon Will.i.Am) and was craving a host of hot new talent to give me tingles with their vocal chops.
After an opening group performance from the judges, the first contestant nervously tread the (extremely) long path to the stage.
“It feels completely different,” Ricky Martin whispered to fellow judge Joel Madden of the new season.
The Latin megastar was right. Nine’s ratings monolith does feel different, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
My first, and perhaps most grating, issue with the show’s latest season is that it’s incredibly difficult to sit there and watch people with genuine talent get critiqued by four individuals who are considerably lacking in it.
This may seem harsh, but take a moment to consider each of the show’s megawatt judges individually.
Joel Madden, the source of much of the show’s humour, delivers lyrics with a gravelly, monotonous drawl in his role as frontman of rock band Good Charlotte. He’s charming and his lyrics are catchy and clever, but Aretha Franklin he ain’t.
Kylie Minogue, beautiful and beloved by the Australian public, is more renowned for her enviable backside and upbeat hits than her vocal range. Her auto-tuned lilt is merely a sideshow to the sexy, sequinned main attraction.
Will.i.am, former member of The Black Eyed Peas, is a one-man show who can rap, produce and write like no other. His industry knowledge is incomparable and he has celebrity connections to boot. Can he count singing as part of his repertoire? Maybe. But he’d be clutching at straws.
Resident eye candy Ricky Martin has earned industry cred for his recent turn on Broadway (which he loves to bring up whenever he can) but his breakout hits Livin’ La Vida Loca and She Bangs, while veritable siren calls to the dance dancefloor, weren’t exactly exercises in oral excellence.
They’re great performers and inarguably possess that elusive “star quality”, but the show is called The Voice for a reason. Shouldn’t it be spearheaded by a bunch of people whose fame isn’t based on good looks, connections and catchy lyrics?
A waning pool of talent
There’s also the uncomfortable fact that as each bubbly, hopeful contestant takes to the stage I’m hit with an overwhelming sense of deja vu.
I’ve seen the tiny girl with the big voice before. I’ve met that guy whose unconventional appearance belies money-making high notes. And I’m well-versed in the life of the loveable individual who has risen up against the odds and whose parents couldn’t be prouder.
Call me a cynic, but could it be that two seasons of blind auditions, plus a host of competitions like X-Factor, Australian Idol and Australia’s Got Talent, have used up what little talent Australia had left?
While previous series had me replaying YouTube clips of mind-blowing audition moments like that of 19-year-old Karise Eden, this season’s offerings are forgettable by comparison.
Perhaps those eager to capitalise on the show’s success should lay off for a season to let budding talent ripen.
A stale format
The final problem is that, in a show that’s given us incredible performers battling blindness, a stutter, poverty and single parenthood, it’s difficult to feel sorry for everyone.
This feeling is only emphasised by the use of the tried and tested reality competition formula: introduce person, reference their life struggle and/or adorable family members and/or famous kin, then let them sing.
My Grandma stubbed her toe once can I get an audition for #thevoiceau too?
— holly (@pinkharryx) May 4, 2014
While I once consumed this formula with watering eyes and an open heart, I now dismiss people’s suffering as “not bad enough” or “a gross over-reaction”.
It shouldn’t be this way, Nine! You’ve exploited my emotions to the point where I’ve become a bad person! Shame on you!
As sweet Greek rocker Frank Lakoudis introduces his cheery girlfriend who happily exclaims that she will “give him a baby!” if he wins, I begin to tune out.
And when Scottish host Darren McMullen looks at the couple and half-questions, half-states “It’s going well(?)” with dead eyes, you can tell he’s mentally checked out too.
If these genuinely lovely people told me their heartwarming stories face-to-face, there’s no doubt I’d listen and applaud them. But when I’m being force-fed their hardship like their ability isn’t enough, it’s hard not to resent them.
In a nutshell
It’s a sweet show, the epitome of harmless fun, but with its prolific fan base, The Voice is somewhat mandated to up the ante.
Hire coaches who can truly belt it, take a year’s hiatus or just stop trying to paint every single person as a battler – whatever you do, Channel Nine, make it good.
The Voice is too clever and profitable to turn sour.
Plus I miss Seal.
What do you think? Has ‘The Voice’ gone off-pitch or is it better than ever? Have your say in the comments section below.