Is The Voice too nice?

Ben Dowell wonders whether BBC1's singing contest is hampered by the format and needs more grit in the oyster...

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The Voice prides itself on being a classy TV talent show.

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While ITV’s The X Factor shamelessly mines the melodrama, BBC1’s The Voice has always seen itself as a cut above that sort of sensational spectacle.

For starters, it doesn’t release the winner’s single straightaway. Instead it nurtures the talent to such an extent that last year’s victor, Jermain Jackman, is not going to release his debut album until March. That’s March this year –more than a year after he was on the show.

While the show is still on our screens, the singers are handled with kid gloves. Those who get through are lauded as the greatest (even though most of them won’t make it through to the final rounds). The losers are always encouraged to return, or given polite suggestions that their voices would work in another kind of music – musicals are a particular favourite.

No one on that show doesn’t have a “great voice” if the coaches are to be believed. And if I hear another coach tell someone that they should have turned, that they regret that they didn’t as the failed contestant is so “inspirational” and “talented” and “awesome” I might scream. They clearly don’t mean it.

The coaches have long defended the approach, with Ricky Wilson insisting that, while he likes The X Factor, it produces a “different kettle of popstar”. Yes: a more successful one.

“If you hear someone and she or he doesn’t get through and you find out they are 16, then part of you think that’s a good thing because they can come back next year,” he tells me. Aww, how sweet. He really wants to be loved, our Ricky, doesn’t he?

Host Emma Willis says that the show carefully chooses good acts. “I know what you mean [about it being too nice] but it’s quite difficult to be nasty about somebody who isn’t a bit sh*t. We don’t have joke acts on and the coaches give constructive criticism.”

She admits that someone “turned the air blue” when their relative didn’t get through, but won’t say who. I strongly suspect this won’t be aired. Not a second of it. Can you imagine The X Factor missing that?

Sir Tom Jones – who was mortified about his offhand joke that the stars of this year’s show were “sh*t” – told me that the producers wanted more of the “natural” conversation between the coaches. All of which explains why this year’s show contains even more light-hearted bantz that isn’t a patch on The X Factor’s spats. Yes, they’re stage-managed but they’re dramatic and entertaining, while the hype generated by the supposed backstage rivalries adds to the intrigue.

As for The Voice’s failure to find a breakout star, well, they keep on justifying it.

Only Will.i.am disagrees and thinks the show needs to encourage the singers while their stock is up, ie. when the nation sees them on TV every week and remembers their name.

“[It needs] a project manager [working with the singers],” “This show is a great format …but when do the singers have time to record? There is something missing.”

I think he’s right. But to my mind what’s also sorely absent is commercial oomph and nous. And a bit more nastiness.

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The Voice airs on Saturday on BBC1 at 7pm