Punters often approach me at gigs to lovingly suggest that I should audition for the X Factor. And although I understand that this is their way of saying you’re really good, I laugh it off to cover my disdain at their suggestion. After all, what self-respecting musician would put themselves through a process where they’re pitted against fame-seekers and the downright awful? Not to mention the fact that for many successful applicants, within a year or two they’re doing exactly what they did before. Fickle is fame.
When I heard about The Voice; “a singing competition unlike any other because because it puts vocal ability first”, with judge/coaches Jessie J, Tom Jones, Will.i.am and Danny O’Donoghue, I thought “finally!” But after tonight’s episode, where the strongest singer of the whole show, J Marie Cooper, aged 27, lost out to an inexperienced 17 year old, I’m bitterly disappointed. The 17 year-old in question, Sophie Griffin, is sweet enough but she was not the stronger vocalist. “So why did she win?” you ask. One guess: she’s 17. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the 17 year old me”, said Will.i.am. as he chose her over J Marie.
When it comes to TV talent shows like the X Factor, they usually comprise of one Rebecca after another wailing her little heart out in a tuneless manner until a Gemma walks through the door. Gemma sings her heartfelt rendition of Make You Feel My Love and sobs: “I’m doing it for my nan, she died last year”. And as a tear wells up in Cheryl’s eye I should inform you that Granny died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 96 and had a good life. “I’m so glad you came”, says Tulisa. “You know, you really remind me of myself”. Simon is impressed by Gemma’s long tanned legs. “I like you”, he says and winks as he tries to conceal his hard on. “You know, you’re going to be a big star”. When Gemma exits the audition room, her entire family embrace and scream with wild abandon as Don’t Stop Believing kicks in on auto cue.
The reality is that Gemma is naff. But in a string of crap-ness, she’s the best thing yet. Good musicians wouldn’t be seen dead on these shows which is why the average level of talent is lukewarm at best. Even past winners are, in my opinion, only good wedding singers. It’s not that genuine talent doesn’t walk through the door; it does. But it is often scrapped in favour of a sob story and big tits. Oh, and if you’re a bit weird and are publicly humiliated by judges who assume you’re bad but then discover you have an okay voice, you become a superstar.
I’m going to say something that will probably upset you all: SUSAN BOYLE IS SHIT. There, I’ve said it.
So, the latest in TV talent shows; The Voice, had something to prove for me and as I tuned into Stage 1 of the audition process, I was impressed. Aside from a couple of odd choices, the coaches were making sound choices in those they took on and the overall level of ability from contestants was high. But it soon became clear that the televised auditions featured the cream of the crop; brilliant singers, often professional, who had already been pre-auditioned. Were the thousands of other singers who applied for The Voice auditioned blind too? I hoped so.
This weekend, Stage 2 of the audition process took place with the coaches grouping singers into pairs who then ‘battled’ for a place in the final. As I watched each pair battle-it-out like performing monkeys to songs ill-chosen by the coaches, I felt sad.It was musical-masturbation at best with each singer desperate to win through and singing over the other in the process. It questioned The Voice’s mission statement of putting vocal ability first, but it’s good TV. Right?
Aside from sob-stories, big tits and now youth, another problem with TV Talent Shows is that you can’t be too good. Twice tonight I witnessed great singers (Emmy J and J Marie) thrown by the wayside in favour of the young and out-of-tune. It seems talent judges and coaches are more impressed when you don’t nail it; they certainly get a kick out of the pained facial expressions singers exude when they can’t quite reach those high notes. I can see how The Voice coaches would want to nurture and help the less experienced singers but I do wonder; by ditching the really great ones, are they saving themselves the embarrassment of admitting on television that they don’t know how to help them improve further?
Every singers talent show needs a proper vocal coach on the judging panel, and correct me if I’m wrong but like The X Factor, Pop Idol and Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice is ill-equipped in this regard. Judge and coach Danny O’Donoghue is a lovely chap and a very experienced songwriter, performer and producer but vocal coach? I don’t think so. The legendary Tom Jones doesn’t know the difference between a third and an octave and Will.i.am? No comment. As for Jessie J, there’s a conundrum; she clearly knows how her voice works but at the age of 24 and with a busy performance schedule singing leaving the BRIT School, has she any experience coaching other singers?
An experienced vocal coach can properly judge a voice’s potential and offer expert advice where non-coaches will listen to a voice as is. Often, excellent singers don’t know how they do it. For me, J Marie’s technique, style, tone and performance tonight was flawless but that’s irrelevant when the judges or so-called coaches aren’t qualified to know a good thing when it slaps them in the face. Want to watch singer who has that extra special something and sings with ease? It’s just not good TV.