My big sister Nicola wants me to go on the BBC reality/talent show The Voice.
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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