My big sister Nicola wants me to go on the BBC reality/talent show The Voice.
Remember that I love to read your comments so feel free to comment in the box below this post.
When I say she ‘wants’ me to go on, I mean she is subjecting me to a Chinese water-torture style drip, drip, drip of persuasive comments.
When she first suggested it, my blood turned cold.
I flatly refused to entertain the idea and even resisted watching the show, but I finally caved in and fired up the iPlayer to see the latest episode, which turned out to be the final blind audition round.
I watched it so that I could check what I had assumed was correct so that I could eloquently explain to her why it was definitely not a good idea for me.
A week ago, I posted a small comment on my Facebook status: “Finally watched The Voice @NicolaCairnX insistence. Only actual technical vocal critique was when Tom Jones said “it was a bit pitchy” hmmmm”
This seemed to invoke strong feelings amongst my friends, (some of them singers) and a lot of them felt compelled to comment, either loving or hating the show. I suppose this is a testament to its success. To be honest, I was a bit nervous of writing about The Voice as I got into trouble early on in my blogging career.
I wrote an article called Susan Boyle And Dreaming The Dream Of Being Discovered
which caused a flurry amongst her American Fan Club. One fan even threatened to report me to Simon Cowell and get me sacked from the recording session. I tried to explain in the follow up article that I was actually a fan of Susan’s success but was worried about the false impression that TV talent shows give to the public – that all you have to do to be a good singer is to be discovered – you don’t need to work hard, train your voice and develop your musical craft.
The BBC have been searching for a new format for Saturday night family viewing to rival the popularity ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent and the X Factor. The Voice has been a tremendous success. On the official BBC website for The Voice it says “Four of the biggest names in music are looking for incredible singing talent to compete for the title of The Voice UK. They will be chosen purely on the quality of their voice.”
The concept of the blind auditions is brilliant telly. The judges sit in big red chairs facing the audience, only turning to see the contestants when they hit the big red button which lights up the chairs, declaring “I want you!” Too late if they are too old/fat/ugly for OK magazine success – the judges have declared their bid on the singing voice alone! Then the singers get to choose their judge from those who have said yes – revenge at last!
The words “I want you” ironically illustrate the driving need within singers to be liked and wanted – hence putting themselves through this torturous process.
That final show seemed a bit unfair to me for some contestants who, in my opinion, were quite good. Three of the judges had already filled their quota, so judge will.i.am held out, despite some strong performances: in fact he rejected a ‘real incredible singer’ just before Jazz Ellington sang. Apparently he needed to “follow his gut “(in his words, the voice of his mother?). Jazz was and is really good. He is a music teacher who has been inspiring children and choirs for years and has clearly done a lot of work on his voice before being discovered.
I was left feeling a little unclean, as the whole final selection felt choreographed for maximum emotional effect. Hey – it worked – it made me well up – but then I howled at the John Lewis Christmas Ad.
The dramatic voiceover of the beginning of the series, promised The Voice was “a singing competition unlike any other because it puts vocal ability FIRST”
Tom Jones summed up the very thing that really worries me about the way singing is presented to the public now, when he declared on the video: “It’s all on the strength of the voice.”
Now please don’t get me wrong, a powerful singing voice is a wonderful thing. For me, (and for many of my colleagues) it’s only half the story. Somebody who has control over that power is so much more thrilling. Somebody who can use that control to deliver a full dynamic and emotional range with their powerful instrument is my ideal. That’s something to study, practise and strive for.
The audition rounds were certainly interesting. It was gratifying that people who certainly didn’t look like the media’s image of a singer managed to get through on their voice alone. (Still some hope for us middle-aged, slightly rotund ladies then Susan?)
For me, it all went horribly wrong in the following round. The singers were put into pairs to battle it out in a mock-up of a boxing ring.
Have a look at this video about the preparation for the “battle” between Becky Hill and duo Indie and Pixie. The two girls are rightly concerned that they are being portrayed as backing singers for Becky – who has a style and sound rather like Joss Stone. Judge Jessie J says in the film “you think because you’re not getting BIG moments you’re not getting moments – you ARE, it’s just the way you sing them”.
The girls carry on trying to push their chest voices harder and higher in an effort to compete, until one clutches her throat in pain and Becky, for whom the chosen key is ideal, blows them out of the vocal water. The duo was originally picked for their complementing voices and harmonies (which involve the much neglected skill of listening to pull off successfully.)
In this ‘BIG VOICE’ battle environment, the pair never stood a chance. Talking about coach Jessie J, Indie (I assume it’s Indie as she’s always on the left, in the style of Ant and Dec) complains “she kept saying, don’t be intimidated by Becky’s big voice, but WE have big voices, we just haven’t had a chance to show it”
Jessie J explains in her introduction to the sing-off : “Indi and Pixie have to make sure their nerves don’t make them sing out of tune ‘cause as soon as they don’t listen to each other, it’s……horrible.”
She’s got that right – but when young singers are trying to force their voices to be BIGGER than they actually are, listening and good tuning goes out of the window.
Another interesting contestant was Ben Lake who has already had success playing God in Jerry Springer The Opera. (Coincidentally I sang on the cast recording). I subsequently read in an interview from the online Kingston Guardian: “I was nervous at the audition because there is so much to lose – singing is my life and you don’t want the judges to tell you you’re rubbish. I had a great fear of that. But I went on The Voice for exposure. It is a tough business and a constant struggle. Some people have asked me why I was auditioning when I already have work, but I struggle as much as the next man to put dinner on the table.”
He doesn’t say in that interview if his audition is successful as it was just before the broadcast and he’d signed a contract of secrecy. Unfortunately Ben didn’t get through, perhaps because his sound is a bit too classical for the pop-orientated panel of judges. However, he has certainly harnessed the publicity from his appearance on the show and has a CD for sale on his website. He has the video of the audition and the strap line “From BBC 1’s The Voice UK” and has presumably had a big increase in his visitors and hopefully sales – a heartfelt good luck to him!
All music to the ears of my marketing guru sister – these are some of the persuasive arguments that Nicola has skyped me recently:
Heather: (in an effort to get her to JUST STOP!) I think, having looked at various clips of the voice, that it would be really pointless me entering as they definitely favour the BIG voices – great to see another live band on the BBC though, with Steve Sidwell (Robbie Williams’ brass arranger) on trumpet – AND they’ve certainly chosen the best musicians rather than hiring a load of pretty boys pretending to play.
Nicola Cairncross: and you don’t have a big voice?!! I’m really NOT trying to talk you into it (yeah right) but my favourites (and the country’s it seems) are the ones who can do great things with their voices – Ruth Brown, Tyler James and Adam Isaacs sailed through. Check their vids on my blog.
Nicola: You keep saying it would be the end of your career if you didn’t get through but you also say your career will end soon anyway. (I admit I have said that before as the singing business for women is very ageist). I also think that just getting through to the auditions, then the live shows would be amazing exposure (would drive LOADS of traffic to your site / youtube channel) and might lead someone to sign your album. I feel you have nothing to lose and everything to gain but I totally understand how you feel after the wave of negativity on your timeline. It would take a very brave woman to say “you know what? F*** it, I don’t care what you losers all think!”
Nicola: and have you heard what all the mentors are saying to the one’s getting knocked out? will.i.am said – and I believe him – “me and my team are always there for you”
Nicola: they love the ones with soul best – and you certainly have that in spades LOL
Nicola: I’ll shut up now
Her final try this morning which provoked this article:
Nicola: I read this: “Obviously will.i.am is pleased to have got Tyler James on his team for The Voice UK, but the coach has publicly revealed that he doesn’t know why Tyler James is competing on the show because he’s already on his way to being a big star. The Voice hopeful was picked by the Black Eyed Peas rapper as one of the final five contestants during last week’s battle round, and this weekend he will be going up against the other nineteen singers during the live stages. However will.i.am isn’t worried, admitting to the Radio Times: “Tyler is an artist, a true star. And I don’t even know why he’s in the competition because he has albums out and I’m a fan of them. He’s great and hats off to joining the competition when you have a career already.”
So that’s a comfort – will.i.am (who comes across as a really nice man) will admire me for trying, in spite of me having a singing career already. The trouble is, as one close singer friend said when I told her Nicola wanted me to enter “If you go on that show, it will be the death of any serious work.” A male colleague, early on in his music-college career, had success on one of these tv talent shows as a member of a popular group. They were subsequently dropped by their management and record company and it has taken him years to be taken seriously again by his classical peers.
I suppose it might be a bit different for me, as I’m much further on, have always mixed up my vocal styles and been fortunate enough to have some level of success. Maybe I’ve not got so much to lose as a young singer.
Apart from my professional reputation – such as it is.
As I watched Ben Lake on The Voice auditions, my heart went out to him. Nobody pressed their big red button – even when he gave them his BIG high notes. My thoughts were mostly how humiliating it would be if I stood there, the announcers told the viewers that I had been a professional singer for over twenty years and then I sang my heart out for 90 seconds and nobody chose me – nobody thought my voice was good enough, or I just didn’t have that extra something that moved people with my singing – or my voice just wasn’t BIG enough!
On live prie time television – exposed as a musical fraud at last – every musician’s nightmare.
My friend Lynne eloquently commented on a guardian article about The Voice, which I posted on Facebook:
“Unfortunately the reality is, to sell music you have to join the game.. not liking how it works does not help .. you have to find a way to play “sell yourself”, like it or not and know that if you are talented you have to surrender to the game… or have a gimmick, know someone to back you … it has always been that way. It just depends if you want to make a living out of it or not (selling your own stuff) or work for others. We all have this problem, no matter what industry it is, not just the music business. Who can find the most quirky way to get traffic and have a product that has testimonials of support, recommendation from others that the sheeply like.. grrrrrrrrrr!”
Lynne – I applaud the use of the word ‘sheeply! and loudly echo the “grrrrrrrrrr!”
Nicola replied to the exact same article:
“Oh please! So there is absolutely NO WAY I can persuade you to enter then?”
Nicola: It would take a very brave woman to say “you know what? F*** it, I don’t care what you losers all think!”
Heather: I just don’t think I’m that brave.
Now I KNOW that you all have some comments on this topic! SO please get busy venting them in the comments box below – your email address is private and won’t appear with the comment.
As a postscript, I probably wouldn’t do anything brave without the encouragement/badgering from my sister, who’s enduring blind belief in my talent always pushes me on to better and more creative things. Thanks Nicola – I love you…….
and now please SHUT UP ABOUT THE BLOODY VOICE!
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‘wave of negativity’…there is so much snobbism/cynicism attached to singing/music, however this can be said for many walks of life. I’m sure there are many pro-singers out there frustrated by the business or lack of it in these recession hit days, that are badgered by their loved-ones to ‘have a go’. I know my lot have said as such to me (not my wife thankfully), without realising the true implications of mass-exposure…alot of it…negative! Possibly, forever fodder for the tabloids and possibly forever trying to justify one’s true credentials that have been stripped away by a Tv show…no thanks!!
Making a living from singing is tough and incredibly competitive…end of. However, I will say this, I tire of hearing singers bitch about so called un-talented singers…Garrett, Watson, Jenkins. They have a package to offer the general-public, like it or not, someone with cash thinks so…end of sorry! Maybe I feel this way as I have no wish as a singer (just about) to compete with them? of course we all critique singers on ‘The Voice’ as it is our ‘chosen subject’.
Enough of me…Heather, I will not say you are ‘better than that’ but would applaud anyone for having the guts to be put thru’ the machine called prime-time telly. One small point…So the musos more often than not play cover versions for a living…does anyone ever judge them?…singers are often prone to give each other a hard time, (apart from mutual love-ins) it has always been thus…x
Thanks for getting the ball rolling Rob! Interesting thoughts – your son Corey Fox-Fardell is certainly breaking the mould with his excellent songwriting (with the help of talented Dad!)
Lol – great article Heather. The thing that popped into my head when I read it was “when you are lying on your death bed, brathing your last, when you look back on your life what do you think you will regret most? The things you did do or the things you didn’t do?” I rest my case (for now!)
My blood curdles at the very thought of this, Heather. As you already know, I gave ‘The Voice’ a try and could just not bear to watch it after the first episode. I have since heard things by colleagues of mine in the profession that would seem to exonerate my decision to boycott this nasty, cheesy cheapening TV. You’re far better than that, Heather and I would hate to see you demean yourself so. Plus the fact that, to ‘appeal’ to the younger judges, you will have to learn croaking, mid-word glottal stops and the policy of he/she who shouts loudest down the mic will receive the loudest cheers from the moronic audience. I’m not convinced that even Tom Jones (bless ‘im) would appreciate your subtle, smooth and MUSICAL style of singing.
Please don’t do it!
Only you can decide whether this is for you. I agree that to appear and be rejected would hang in the mind for the rest of MY days, but assess the pros and cons carefully.
(Pro.) At least 90 secs of exposure. (Con) You will forever be associated at the level of other contestants. Are the viewers of this type of show your target audience?
(Pro.) You will make contacts. (Con) How helpful will they be? How many contestants on these shows move on to success, above the level you are at now?
(Pro) You could push CD sales. (Con)I fear you will be at the mercy of the show, by way of a tight contract.
You are an experienced performer with a mature and well trained voice. look at the other contestants still in the competition and think how you would fit in?
The show is called the voice, but I have the feeling that a pretty, young “clothes horse” will
win the competition.
I have never been a fan of any music competition, because every judge has their own agenda.
However, If you go for it I will be cheering you on and boasting to everyone that you’re a friend of mine.
AND lastly, did you hear the four judges murder that U2 song.
Thank you all for participating in the debate. Yes Richard I watched that on youtube. I’m amazed they let that go out as they all seemed to be displaced by a beat on the verse. Mind you the racket going on in the room you can see why!
It was live – I’m sure they wouldn’t have let it go out if they’d had a choice!
Ah yes – of course, you’re right Kathy! It was VERY noisy in that room so you can see why it went wrong.
Look H, I don’t care one way or another if you do it – it’s your choice. I just found the talent scout to give you another marketing / promotion opportunity and it’s up to you if you use it.
I love the show, it’s certainly massive promotion if the public take to you, but I don’t like the sing-off format after the auditions either.
All I know is that
1) If it was my career / future I’d be investigating ALL avenues and not just letting other people put barriers up at the beginning of all those potential avenues before I’d investigated them myself.
2. All the people who are saying things to put you off won’t be paying your bills if, as you say, your classical voice changes in the next few years and what comfort then looking back at that highly trained, mature, voice you used to have. Musical integrity don’t put food on the table.
I really AM going to shut up now because IMHO the only people to take advice from are those who have successfully done what you want to do – which is perform a music you love live and make a living from selling albums of that music – not those who have not.
hi Heather, first of all, I’m here because I saw your post (via Nicola) on FB. So I’m speaking as someone who doesn’t know anything about your voice (but feel free to send me a sample!) but I’ve followed “The voice” here in Ireland – similar format. Neither am I a singer or musician (I am learning a musical instrument but I don’t think that qualifies me 🙂 ) However my son has competed a lot musically. He’s won a few and not even been placed in others. So I have seen it from that side. What does distress me about “the voice” is how desperate so many of them are – it’s as if they have built their whole self-esteem as artists on (what is essentially some people’s opinions). In Ireland there have been quite a few competitors who already had hits/record contracts and got dropped and they didn’t even make it to the final. I think if I was going into a competition like that I’d have my Plan B ready (how can I keep growing as an artist – that is ultimately what counts on your deathbed I think), and enter it in the spirit that it’s the judges’ opinion but not build your life/hopes around it. Know that someone it means a lot and in another way it doesn’t mean anything….
Thanks Anne – good advice!
Hey, i just found this article…
AUDITIONS FOR THE VOICE…Stiil tired of The X-Factor? Why not audition for ‘The Voice’?
Have you had a record-contract and would like another? Are you a Backing-Singer hoping to step into the limelight like one of the greatest backing-singers of all time, say…Luther Vandross? Are you part of a quarrelsome duo? (come and sing a song about splitting up, with bucket-loads of irony) 🙂
Ever wondered what it would be like to be in a Gladiatorial Battle (7 million viewers watching), armed with nothing but a new outfit and a set of lungs? or to quote an o.t.t presenter, at the ”biggest moment of your life”, wonder what it may be like to have highly trained dancers constantly in your peripheral vision, whilst walking/singing down a 35 step staircase and trying to remember the lyrics of a freshly learnt/arranged up-tempo dance-number?
Our 4 vocal coaches are here for you (er, or in America) and ready to help you find that elusive er’ song or give you what we like to call…The V-Factor!
Unlike The X-Factor we really care and won’t er, W.i.ll turn our backs on you!
Simply and literally give us a SHOUT, by ema.i.ling or texting, but please t.e.x.t at an appropriate time!!! (not while the show is actually being recorded)…
The bit about the 35-step staircase has sealed it for me! My pseudonym is Mrs Clumsy…..
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. What I find most resonant is that your sister is keen for you to go on the show to promote yourself and that you are reticent.
As a business opportunity – the area your sister seems conversant in – The Voice offers terrific exposure. For the artist (yourself) it can not only be treacherous in respect of one’s professional career path but also artistic decisions – musical genre, performance presentation, technical compromise.
Clearly there is a fine line to negotiate. The right exposure is valuable for classically trained musicians in a competitive market that prizes great integrity – read seriousness – both professionally and artistically. The cosmetic nature of a show, let alone the ephemeral nature of the modern pop-market idiom of this show presents both opportunity and hazard.
The overwhelming opportunity presented by The Voice is for the solo singer rather than the ensemble singer. Susan Boyle, who you mention in this piece, could afford to give it a go as she had nothing to lose; a solo singer, such as Ben Lake can afford to give it a go as the equivocal message given by his participation will impact little on his already burgeoning solo career (as I understand it, and second you in wishing him well).
The issue is for the artists, such as we are, who work in ensembles and might entertain the idea of such a show as a break out. If it doesn’t work, the exposure may not only be insufficient but may not actually be appropriate as (like your allusion) the professional and artistic integrity valued by colleagues and employers alike may be seen to have been compromised.
Cheney, I agree wholeheartedly with the dangers you expressed in such a considered reply. What educated colleagues I am blessed to work with!
Nooooooooo…all these shows are stage managed 21st century public stonings! Don’t go near them Ms Cairncross, they’re all about the many losers and not the solitary winner, who is so often soon forgotten.
How many huge stars or good jobbing musicians ever came through one of these ‘competitions’? Z-list celebrity is the best that can be hoped for by taking part in these poor excuses for entertainment.
…and we all know how easy it is to make someone sound, or look, good, bad or indifferent!
The only real winners in terms of exposure and finance are the judges…
Your far to good to entertain the idea (sorry Nicola!)
Ha ha mister Brown! Great to have all your opinions. Thanks to all the busy artists who have taken time from their own sphere of the arts to comment. I encourage you to check out their own writing on their excellent websites!
this all makes most interesting reading. I know very little about the pop world, as I only occasionally venture out from my classical clam-shell to gawp at all the sequins and pretty flashing lights. I’ve been out of the loop on the Voice but clearly it makes pretty compelling telly at various levels. It’s good to remind ourselves that all of these shows are ultimately designed to entertain and boost ratings, and this is often based on creating conflict, which only really serves the programme makers.
I totally understand Nicola’s desire to see you succeed and extend your abilities to their fullest potential; likewise that you shouldn’t look back at your life and regret having passed up certain opportunities. However, the other side of the same coin is that if you embark on something like this and it damages the career you have so carefully constructed this far, you can’t easily undo its effects.
In some ways the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, only publicity (or words to that effect) is very true: the most useful thing to be gained from an appearance on the Voice MIGHT simply be exposure to a vast number of people, a few of whom would recognise your artistic worth. The question is whether those people are in a position to do anything about it, given that ultimately the Voice is a money-making exercise. While it would hopefully make money for you, the people in charge of it are probably more interested in making money for themselves, if necessary at your expense. My hunch is that you would lose control of your creative product if you were to get any distance into the process. So perhaps to go on it and be knocked out early on would save you from this but would it look bad, professionally-speaking, not to have progressed against other, ostensibly less experienced singers?
As with all singing it must surely boil down to a question of taste and, in this competitive format, what each of the judges is comfortable with assessing and critiquing, as much as whether anyone is objectively a better singer than someone else. Double-guessing that is virtually impossible. I think the decision must be one that you take based on gut (or hot /cold-running blood) instinct about what is right for you. If you decide you’re up for the challenge of public scrutiny, potential loss of privacy and blunt TV-worthy comments about you, your work, your clothes, probably your hair, body and everything else about you, then at least be certain that you will get a stonking series of blog posts out of it.
What an eloquent reply…..thanks Claire for taking the time to really consider the situation and share such a well worded view.
I agree with Clare. These programmes are ultimately about TV ratings, and sadly, humiliating the contestants is part of the process (in the name of entertainment). Reading the debate with interest… I love Mr Snipp’s story!
Hahahha, Clare, that might tip her over, she’s always looking for inspiration for blog posts!
For anyone who comes here to comment but hasn’t yet heard H’s glorious album, described by
Walter Love – Jazz Club, BBC Radio Ulster “as near as perfect as you’re likely to get” you can get a taster here on her YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/heathercairncross or just click the “Enjoy The Album” banner at the top of the page to hear samples of every tune on it.
Cheers, Nicola (the big bad badass marketing sister!)
Hi Heather. I auditioned this year for The Voice. I have a solo swing act and wanted exposure which would lead to higher fees and maybe a pension. I know Ben Lake well and we swapped notes as we went along. I got through the fisrt round but not to the TV stage. Upon reflection I may have come across as a bit arsy. Do you know Anton Browne? He was my vocal coach and was advising me on how to sing a particular number. A swing type number. I said I wanted to sing the number more like Matt Munro. Fuller voiced. Not Operatic. I’m not daft. Tom Jones (Sir) sings still very well because he has a well supported voice. I got frustrated and made the comment that unless I sing it your way I won’t get through?. Should have kept my mouth shut. I had been standing in the cold for an hour. Did Ben Lake mention the list of songs they had to agree to sing? I knew three of the 100 or so songs. Snippy
Thank you for your thoughts. Well that just confirms everything I guessed really. A man who is brave enough to take his Grade 8 Music Theatre for a laugh, to show his pupils how to do it – and gets %100, a man I saw sing Papageno on the ENO stage, a man who always looked good in a Tarzan outfit – but most of all a man with a bloody great voice and the stage experience and charm to win a crowd over doesn’t get through……I would never have a chance.
Thanks for your comments. Yes, Ben told me they were forced to sing very modern songs that only 15-year-olds would know. I guessed that when Jazz (a gospel singer) sang an Ed Sheeran song for goodness sake. He also told me that LOADS of people I’d know sang and didn’t get through.
These shows are just so fixed – the producers just have absolutely no regard or respect for the man in the street. If you only feed people Mcdonanalds, then that’s what they’ll crave.