Despite adoring most forms of reality TV and being someone who loves staying in on a Saturday night, I had never watched a full episode of The Voice UK until this year. Obviously I knew about it, things like Kylie being involved and the glorious spinning chairs. I also gathered Will.I.Am was meant to be good value and Ricky Wilson was a thing and there’s a boxing match where people sing/shout at each other, but that’s the extent of my knowledge. I impressed myself pulling that together. I couldn’t tell you who’s won or name a single contestant, which has always been the main criticism of The Voice UK. If it claims to find talent and create brand new popstars, where are they?
This came up at the press conference ahead of the new series and Ricky answered “we’re building careers, I think.” He can’t be sure. Last year’s winner it turns out was Jermain Jackman (which does ring a bell) and was on Will I Am’s team. He’s had an EP out, is working on an album and says “It’s that whole sense of working hard in silence and letting your success make the noise.” Hmm, you might have to speak up a bit Jermain.
The first time you watch The Voice UK the obvious thing to do is to compare it to The X Factor. Obviously there’s four people sat in chairs watching someone sing but it doesn’t look or feel the same. There isn’t the same panto vibe and you don’t get the ones who think they’re good then arguing with the judges that they are good when they’re dreadful.
The irony is there is opportunity for heated fights on The Voice UK because the judges have to hustle an act into choosing them, but instead it’s all terribly polite. Ricky actually hugged Rita and apologised for taking an act she wanted. Imagine Simon’s face if someone chose Mel B over him?? Or Cheryl’s hairflick as she was rejected in favour of Louis?! Of course no one would ever choose Louis but you get the point (for the record, I love you Louis).
Such is the conditioning of X Factor that it’s easy to get impatient watching The Voice UK, mainly because the feedback after each contestant has sung is so long. Each judge has their say, none of which they’ve prepared and Tom Jones might well throw in an anecdote about Elvis. The most remarkable bit is when they spend ages chatting to someone who no one turned round for. The contestant isn’t going through and we’ll never see them again (in this series anyway) but now we have to hear a full explanation about why they weren’t chosen. Even worse is when the judges protest “I almost turned round,” like in Bullseye, when they show you what you could have won.
The chairs themselves are marvellous. Disney villain seats, clad in Fifty Shades red leather operating at a health and safety suitable speed. The judges like the chairs, hanging out like they’ve brought them in from home, sticking one leg over the side and chatting to their fellow judges like pop hermits. But because no one in real life actually does live in a chair, or hangs out in one all the time, it’s all a little bit awkward.
This chair dwelling isn’t helped by the odd swaths of chair downtime when riveting chat like “what noises do penguins make?” and vague phrases like “I hope the next one’s good” happen. Last weekend Tom Jones actually sat there and whistled, like your Dad putting some shelves up.
It is then odd that I find myself hooked. I’m in. I’ve realised the odd banter, the underwhelming tension and even the irritating addition of “UK” on the end of the title are all reasons to love The Voice UK. It doesn’t rely on someone screaming and crying to add drama, the singing is more than enough. Everyone talks normally, on the whole seem quite humble about the whole thing and I can’t recall anyone protesting “but it’s my dream!” either before or after an audition.
There’s sort of a kindness to the whole thing, the judges seem genuinely interested in who’s come to sing for them. Contestants are cherished rather than being given a no and shoved off back to work. Maybe this also extends to former winners and contestants, maybe they are being worked with and helped so they are in the best position they can be to release a single or album. Maybe they really are building superstars of the future; it seems a hopeful way to go about finding new talent.
I’ve got into it because we’re so used to slick, shiny, fast-paced talent shows it’s actually quite nice to have something else. Something that takes its time and is polite and pleasant, just how I imagine Tom Jones to be.
It’s also just a bit weird, and I love that. It’s the girl at school with one pigtail higher than the other, a lad in the office with odd socks on, the pensioner on the bus with blue highlights in her hair. It’s just there doing its thing with nothing to prove except having a nice time with people who love singing. And in all honesty, who doesn’t want to know what Tom said the first time he met Frank Sinatra?!