The Voice Kids UK is sure to be the latest in a long line of TV talent shows that sparks a debate about children being thrust into the limelight when it debuts on ITV this weekend.
The show sees 7 to 14-year-olds battling it out to win a £30,000 bursary towards their musical education and a trip to Disneyland Paris, but is the glare of the prime time Saturday night spotlight a little too harsh for young performers?
New Voice Kids coach Pixie Lott believes the talented young singers who’ll pop up on out screens over the next eight weeks are more than able to handle the pressure.
“I don’t think it’s too young, I think it’s great to have these experiences at a young age,” says Lott. “None of the kids on the show have been pushed on or forced by their parents. You can see that the passion comes from them and they love being there.”
She argues that their youth actually gives them an advantage when it comes to handling the pressure: “The younger they are the more fearless they are. And the more normal it is to maybe not get through to the next round, and keep going and having amazing experiences like this.”
She adds that plenty of her own audition experiences weren’t successful when she was a budding star.
But while taking rejection at a young age is one thing, having to take it in the glare of the TV camera – and the viewing public – is another.
13-year-old Rachel Crow’s distressing X Factor USA exit in 2011 left viewers calling for a ban on young singers entering singing contests, on the grounds that losing out could be too upsetting for them.
Just last week Britain’s Got Talent viewers noted that young Issy Simpson had to be joined on stage by her mum when she became emotional before the results of her semi-final were read out.
Fear of how the young children might react should they fail to qualify played on the coaches’ minds too. Black Eyed Peas star and Voice UK coach will.i.am admits he almost didn’t agree to take part in the kids series because he was “terrified” of “seeing a kid cry because someone didn’t turn for them”.
New coach and McFly front man Danny Jones says turning around at the end of a child’s unsuccessful audition was one of the hardest things the three coaches had to face. “It’s not a nice situation so we’ve tried to keep it as positive as possible,” he says, explaining that they always encourage the children to keep working hard at what they love and encourage them to come back in future.
Lott believes the young singers handle themselves incredibly well in those situations. “You can see they’re still happy to be there and have the opportunity,” she explains. “Sometimes it’s a great thing to get a no. I think it’s a great experience for them.”
The Voice Kids seems to have bent over backwards to make the TV experience as pleasant as possible for its young contestants too. Numerous format changes mean the show isn’t nearly as tough as its big brother, The Voice UK.
Their waiting room is filled with comfy couches, toys and games, and they’re encouraged to chill out and interact with each other. The walk to the stage isn’t too lonely either, as vocal coach Jai Ramage is on hand to reassure them en route.
While performing they’re never too far from their parents or guardians, and the coaches’ chairs spin around at the end regardless of whether a contestant has been successful or not.
This means that unlike the adults (who in the ITV version of the show simply have to leave the stage in silence if they haven’t made it through), the children ALWAYS get the chance to speak to the judges. “The least you can do is give them feedback. To not do that for kids would be inhumane,” says will.i.am, who admits he’s been blown away by the confidence and fearlessness of the young performers.
Changes have also been made to make the ‘Battle Rounds’ a little less daunting. The youngsters will perform in groups of three for their coach instead of going head-to-head one-on-one like the adults. Only one of those three children will make it through to their coach’s final team.
The concept of the steal (where a coach can snap up someone else’s rejected contestant) has also been scrapped, and the kids won’t be subjected to week after week of Saturday night vote offs. There will only be one live episode – The Grand Final.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a competition at heart, but the majority of kids taking part are well used to it. A quick sweep of the internet reveals that many of the contestants are seasoned pros on the regional talent contest circuit.
“There have been kids on talent shows previous to this,” Lott reminds us. “This one I think is the most exciting because it’s literally just kids and that is why the energy is so high.”
She’s right too. Compared to the harsh Six Chair Challenge or Stand of Shame worlds of its older singing show siblings, The Voice Kids feels like a walk in the playground. The first episode of the series strikes us as a feel-good celebration of the nation’s young vocal sensations, and passionate pre-teens that are fearless enough to get up on stage and give it a go.
It’s a fun, friendly and warm piece of television that make sure every child has time to shine. Here’s hoping the mini musicians keep smiling and laughing when the cameras stop rolling though, eh?