Jessie J named as first judge for BBC’s The Voice UK

Singer/songwriter will add credibility to next spring's X Factor rival

Jessie J will be a judge and coach on the BBC’s new talent show The Voice, RadioTimes.com can reveal.

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In signing the 23-year-old Brit award-winning singer/songwriter, the BBC has sent a clear message that it means business when it comes to making its expensive acquisition work, and challenging the Simon Cowell-dominated talent show market.

With 18 global number ones, six million single sales and two million albums shifted – as well as a string of high-profile songwriting credits to her name – Jessie J will surely bring popular appeal and musical credibility to a project that hinges on securing a good judging panel.

A Dutch format from the creator of Big Brother, The Voice has rapidly become a television success around the world, topping the ratings in the USA with judges Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Christina Aguilera. The show, which attracts obvious comparisons to The X Factor, seeks to find “incredible singing talent” through a series of stages that include a blind audition and a battle round before the inevitable live showpiece final rounds.

“I’m excited to be a coach, inspiration and mentor,” Jessie J said. “I jumped at the opportunity as it’s all about ‘The Voice’.”

Unlike The X Factor – on which Jessie J recently appeared alongside Tulisa Contostavlos at the judges’ houses stage – auditions will not be filmed and only solo artists and duets will be eligible. So those expecting a string of tone-deaf, deluded wannabes in the early programmes need not tune in – the BBC says this show is all about genuine talent.  Whether that proves to be a good thing as far as audiences are concerned remains to be seen.   

With a reported £20 million price tag and against a backdrop of 20 per cent cuts at the BBC, The Voice is going to have to work hard not only to command a share of the saturated talent show market, but also deflect criticism from the press and public for being an extravagant luxury buy-in during austere times.  

However, it’s been a long time since the BBC attempted a serious challenge to The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent – Fame Academy died a death in 2003. Currently the mainstay of the Beeb’s talent show portfolio is Strictly Come Dancing, a programme that enjoys very good viewing figures (and has been formatted across the world), but has an audience more than half of whom are over 55.    

At the same time, The X Factor has rebooted, bringing in three younger, more urban, more relevant judges in the shape of Tulisa, Kelly Rowland and Gary Barlow. That’s starting from a base of around 75 per cent of viewers under 55 in the 2010 series. 

It appears that with Jessie J The Voice will seek to tap into that same youthful market and bring a whole new generation of talent show fans to primetime BBC1.

Of course, it will take more than one cool young artist to make the series a success.  Rumours remain rife as to who will fill the three remaining judging seats, with Lenny Kravitz and former X Factor mentor Dannii Minogue among those tipped to be involved. If the BBC can pull off such big-name coups, you’d imagine Simon Cowell might – just might – begin to sweat.  

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For now, though, The Voice remains a big gamble for the BBC. And with an expected air date of spring 2012, there’s still a long way to go until we find out whether our licence fee has been well spent…