Oh good, another “who drew first blood?” blogpost?
In some ways, it’s like we’re all winners. The media gets two sparring shows to pit against each other and, depending on which side any particular periodical is on, claim to be the victor (because I think we all know that both sides will be claiming victory regardless of the actual outcome), both shows get more publicity than they would have done had they launched independently, reality TV fans get twice as many shows to enjoy, reality TV detractors get twice as many things to blame for the country’s televisual shame spiral. It’s the best of all possible worlds – but having watched both series’ debut episodes for the year, which one was the more satisfying viewing experience?
Let’s go chronologically then, and begin with The Voice UK. On paper, it seemed like an appealing enough prospect: gawping at the “comedy” auditionees has always been my least favourite part of the X Factor experience, so having a show that pre-screens the contestants specifically to avoid those people ought to be a good thing. Unfortunately, that’s about the only aspect of X Factor that The Voice UK did manage to sidestep. The following, sadly, were all present and correct:
- Sob stories (including one dead parent)
- Decidedly mediocre contestants being entirely overpraised just because they happen to fit the “type” that the show is looking for
- Far more time being spent on pointless inter-judge drama than on the actual contestants
- Vastly inflated sense of its own importance
On top of all of this, as lots of people were pointing out on Twitter, pretty much all of the contestants who were shown would’ve got through the first round on The X Factor. The woman with alopecia? The X Factor would’ve been ALL OVER that. Girl with whiny voice and overly-earnest personality playing a guitar and singing a Jessie J song? Straight through to boot camp. Annoying hipster with a Jedward haircut singing ‘Rocket Man’ while playing a keyboard and twitching like Rose McGowan in the final season of Charmed? Would totally have got the “you’re weird, but I think people will like you” treatment from that year’s Cowell/Barlow figure, and put in Louis Walsh’s category for live shows. So right from the off, the idea that the “blind auditions” are somehow providing an opportunity to people who would’ve been dismissed by other talent shows felt rather hollow.
Not that any of this stopped The Voice UK repeatedly patting itself on the back for being so deep and not judging on appearances. This created another problem, though – by making each contestant explain why they’d chosen a show with blind auditions as opposed to any other series (anyone who didn’t cover this subject in their pre-performance VT of their own free will was inevitably asked “why The Voice?” by the coaches, which always made me think of Phil Dunphy on Modern Family thinking that “WTF” stands for “why the face?”), more attention was given to everyone’s appearance than would have happened on The X Factor, thereby making the whole thing somehow feel more tokenistic and a little bit like a pity party. I lost count of the number of times that contestants said something to the effect of “I may not look like Beyoncé, BUT I’M STILL FABULOUS!” *fingersnap*
In terms of the coaches, I thought William was the only one who had the warmth and the wit to hold up a show like this. Tom Jones appears quite happy to turn around for just about anything, and has a long rambling anecdote for every occasion. Him Out Of The Script was trying desperately to justify his inclusion. Jessie J wasn’t quite as hideous as I was expecting her to be, but she dearly loves the sound of her own voice, and uttered ridiculous statements like “number ones, albums, touring, all that stuff is a bonus, yeah? Music is where it should stem from.” Shall we go through everything that’s wrong with that?
- There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to make money out of music. But auditioning for this show sort of implies that you do.
- The winner of this show gets a contract with Universal Music. I doubt this attitude is endorsed or shared by them.
- If cultivating new music really is that important to this show, why are the auditionees singing covers?
- Jessie J tried to convince a subsequent contestant to join her team by telling them that she knows how to make them have a worldwide hit, so she’s kind of a massive hypocrite.
- Shut up, Jessie J.
This attitude, regrettably, pervades the very bones of The Voice UK. As a rule of thumb, if someone auditions who’s pretty enough to not need to worry about the blind audition aspect, it’s because they’re a tedious muso. Every single auditionee sang a ballad, because that’s what serious musicians do. This also created a bit of a problem with having William as a mentor, because although he turned around frequently, only one contestant actually picked him, and I can’t help thinking this is related to the fact that the sort of pretentious tryhard who auditions for this show is not the sort of person who likes songs that go “DIRTY BIT!”
More than anything, though, the thing that disappointed me about The Voice UK was that it wasn’t any fun to watch. The combination of the show’s relentless worthiness along with the generally mediocre level of the talent on display made it feel like a chore rather than a joy. It was a show desperately in need of a sense of humour, or at the very least an occasional lightness of touch to puncture the overall atmosphere of a bunch of NME readers tediously wanking over their fretboards.
Over to Britain’s Got Talent: to start with, let me say that I’ve never been a fan of this show. Over the years I’ve watched pretty much every reality show going without discriminating, and yet I’ve never been able to bring myself to sit through this one. Obviously for its first four years it had Piers Morgan as a judge and therefore a boycott was entirely justified, and replacing him with Michael McIntyre wasn’t going to do an awful lot to entice me back. The announcement that Alesha Dixon was joining the show this year left me with a bit of a dilemma: I was always a fan of hers on Strictly Come Dancing, both as a contestant and a judge, but I wasn’t sure I was willing to endure the whole show just for her. However, the heart wants what it wants, and after 80 minutes of The Voice UK, I couldn’t help picking up the remote control and flicking over to ITV1. Just out of curiosity. Just to see.
And well, it was both unexpected and entirely expected. Obviously it’s still the same sort of exploitative Cowelly nonsense as The X Factor, playing our emotions like a fiddle with strategic deployment of ‘You Raise Me Up’, telling us exactly what to think and feel at every single turn. It still has that awful audience representing the very worst of British mob mentality – at one point, a man was booed purely for saying that he was from Germany. I am completely serious. It is 2012, and an entire auditorium considered it necessary to boo someone for being German. That was definitely a sobering moment.
There were other misfires in the programme too, not least its bizarre insistence on bombarding us with suggestions for Twitter hashtags referring to specific events in the programme. It’s bad enough when a show keeps telling you which generic hashtag to use when referring to it (Sky1, please stop trying to make #gleeonsky happen), but this was even more peculiar. It’s almost as if whoever had this brilliant idea didn’t entirely understand how Twitter works, and didn’t realise that hundreds of thousands of people will need to repeatedly use a hashtag for it to start trending, and that a single hashtag referring to a specific event that lasts all of about 15 seconds wouldn’t stand a chance. I’d be surprised if this idea isn’t quickly ditched, to be honest.
And yet, despite all of this, I actually enjoyed the show. Sure, it was predictable, and kind of trite, but it had the sense of fun and tongue-in-cheek humour that The Voice UK was sorely lacking. This show knows that it’s just a daft talent show, and isn’t afraid to embrace that. Plus, the new panel really works – Alesha looks far more comfortable here than she ever did on Strictly, perhaps because there’s no expectation of giving detailed technical feedback; you’re just required to speak your mind, which is something she’s obviously not afraid of. David Walliams was a great addition too – when the Sugar Dandies (a same-sex ballroom couple) auditioned, I thought this would be the sort of thing to set Simon’s gay panic alarm to previously unrealised levels, but David made a point of shutting that down before that even happened, and making very pointed comments about “equality” which I thought was very encouraging on primetime ITV1.
Most enjoyably of all, Britain’s Got Talent lined up another Susan Boyle moment for its final audition of the night, when a male/female vocal duo turned up, following a string of disastrous auditions, with the man being both chubby and shy, and them giving the “we were put together by our singing teacher!” story which usually spells disaster – and then he started singing and this amazing deep, rich sound emerged, in the most obvious “take that, The Voice” moment imaginable.
So, who won? Well, I’m going to take the coward’s way out, obviously, and say that it’s FAR too early to tell; based on one episode, I found Britain’s Got Talent to be a far smoother and more enjoyable show, yet I probably won’t watch it religiously in the way that I probably will follow the whole of The Voice UK, because the latter is new and still finding its feet and might yet prove to be a real powerhouse. But it just really, really needs to lighten up first.