“It’s always tricky to land these shows on Saturday night and get the format right, and they’re ever-evolving,” said BBC entertainment boss Mark Linsey when series two of The Voice was ending last year with more of a whimper than a bang.
But evolve the show he did, replacing Jessie J and excitable indie popster Danny O’Donoghue with Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson and pop sensation Kylie Minogue.
The BBC, Kylie has recently admitted, had tried to get her on the show from day one, but the time wasn’t right for her. But now it is stumbling to a third – and possible final – series, can she step in and save it?
Judging by her turn in episode one and her performance at the press launch (as well as the nearly 25 years I have been aware of her), it’s clear she has an engaging personality. There’s a girl-next-door niceness and a refreshing honesty about her that is genuine and unforced. She tries to be as decent as possible, but even her let downs are charged with warmth and kindness. In the first show she makes it quite clear when she fancies one of the contestants – and the studio audience certainly warmed to her.
Basically, Kylie wants us to like her and she’s good at it. In fact, she could probably manufacture goodwill and a cheery smile out of a Pot Noodle.
It probably also helps her that, as with Jessie J, she is the only girl on the coaching panel. Ever the optimist, she says that this means there won’t be stories of bitchiness and cattiness in the papers.
But here she may have inadvertently put her finger on the show’s problem: wouldn’t it benefit from a bit of bitchiness and cattiness? And, well, if not that, a bit of edge maybe?
Because the problem is it’s all a bit too nice. While the X factor wrings every ounce of tension and drama from and between its singers and judges, The Voice always feels a little too sedate and amateurish. And as my colleague and reality show super fan Emma Daly pointed out in the inaugural Radio Times podcast, when you don’t have much input in the voting in a talent show it’s easy to feel a bit detached and so what? about it.
With the X Factor, the audience at home decides who wins. With The Voice all the drama and excitement seems to take place in the heads of the coaches. Ricky Wilson assured me at the press launch that there will be a format change in later stages, but series two gizmos such as giving the coaches the opportunity to “steal” candidates didn’t massively change the proposition. The difficulty of there being less drama after the swivel-chair rounds will probably remain.
Also the show has not produced a singing star. They readily admit this – in fact wil.i.am cannily pretended that this was a virtue, insisting that the show more accurately reflected the reality of the record industry.
Nice try Mr I.Am, but in a world awash with slick reality TV formats and with audiences as savvy as they are, I am not sure this will wash. Even the lovely Kylie’s introduction may just prove a stay of execution.
The Voice series 3 begins on BBC1 on January 11 at 7pm