Though I have seen The Avengers, which I refuse to refer to as its UK title, Marvel Avengers Assemble, I’ve decided to review the film next week. I have two reasons for this. The first is that I’m very aware that wordpress.com reaches a potential international audience so even by waiting a week I can allow American audiences to have the chance to view the film and still post a review while it’s still relevant. The second reason is because I believe that The Voice UK is more deserving of analysis at the moment.
The battle rounds ended last week and we’ve moved into the live shows. Admittedly, this has happened a lot faster than it would in either X-Factor or American Idol who draw out their respective Judge’s houses and boot camp stages for longer. The reason for this is reportedly that the BBC bosses dislike the battle set up. And I’d have to agree. Honestly, I don’t see the purpose of the battle rounds, especially because contestants are being pitted against members of their own team so if, for the sake of argument, Danny has a great team overall and Will.I.Am has a weaker team then at the show loses five great singers and five weak singers. That seems a little counter-productive when the show claims to be trying to find the best voice in the UK. Of course, there’s a certain amount of subjectivity involved in choosing who has bested who in any case but why force mentors to reduce their individual teams when the best of one team could still be one of the weakest singers overall?
So I think the innate construction of the battle round allows some weaker singers to slip through simply because they’re the best of a bad bunch. I also feel as though the battle rounds genuinely do very little to reflect which singer is better. Although they do sing individual segments, large parts of their songs require them to sing over the top of each other which can lead to shouting bouts rather than actual singing. Personally I feel that it would have been much more effective if the battle rounds required the competing singers to duet with their rivals. For all that this show does to make it distinctive from the X-Factor, it’s really all talk by making the battle rounds about beating the other singer rather than displaying an outstanding singing talent. A duet would reflect the latter much better than a former because any singer can belt out a number but tuning yourself to the sound and nuances of another singer requires a lot more control and finesse that a lot of singers don’t actually have. The closest that I’ve seen a show come to try and pinpoint a singer capable of that is American Idol. Their group stage at boot camp forces singers to work with one another to get through. And that’s part of the reason that American singers are generally more talented than anyone in the British market.
For whatever reason the BBC bosses didn’t like the battle rounds, their decision to reduce it into a whole weekend may not have been the best idea in hindsight. It forced them to cut ten battles into two hour and half shows including all the build up and preparation with their mentors and the mentor assistants. It was a lot to be packed into one weekend and in the end it seems to have bitten them in the ass given how many contestants have complained about editing. One contestant, Ben Kelly, criticised the contest because his battle round got significantly less time than the others and when you watched the show you can completely understand his criticism. His battle round was about forty seconds compared the few minutes dedicated to the other contestants. At the same time ITV bosses accused the show of overrunning by three minutes and cutting into the Britain’s Got Talent lead in to continue affecting ratings despite the removal of the twenty minute overlap.
A lot of this can just be taken as posturing by the rival channels but after watching the live shows it does seem as though The Voice UK has a serious problem with time management. In the same allotted time, both X-Factor and American Idol have been known to run through their top 12 or 16 artists, including back story and critique. The Voice UK got through 10 of their top 20. But the analysis stage felt pitiful and cringe-worthy as Holly Willoughby would ask Danny a question then Will.I.Am would interject and then Holly would ask Tom and Danny would cut in with a joke and finally Jessie J would speak and get indignant that Will.I.Am disagreed with her…and what did the contestant get out of this? Nothing.
For all the negative remarks you can make about X-Factor and Simon Cowell, it has the judge’s comments section down to a craft. American Idol was great at it too though in recent years only really Randy Jackson and Steven Taylor seem to be able to cut through the crowd or speak out of turn to great effect. J-Lo often sounds drowned out when she tries to speak over the crowd. But at least it’s fairly succinct and if it runs on too much at all Ryan Seacrest pulls it back together. Similarly on X-Factor, Simon Cowell was always effective at drawing things to a close and moving on because they knew they had a tight time frame and knew how to work within it. That’s something that neither the judges nor the presenters on The Voice UK really seem to be aware of.
I’d also argue that the judges don’t understand the difference between being needlessly mean and being constructive. Simon Cowell on the first season of American Idol was needlessly mean. Jessie J telling a singer that his dancers were distracting was not constructive. In fact, she’s probably the most likely of the judges to even have dancers on stage with her at a concert. Noticeably though, the show has moved away from the voice being the be all and end all since the end of the blind auditions. The battle rounds had contestants being picked for their age, the live round has contestants being asked to change their image and most of the live round performances have just as much spectacle as the average performance on X-Factor or American Idol. It feels as though The Voice UK is just trying desperately to be different and running down its competition. While many of their criticisms of rival shows are valid I’m uncomfortable with a show being different for the sake of being different, which is what the battle rounds and the lack of constructive critique are. They don’t seem to have had much effect on the singers as far as I can hear because they sound, and look, just like anyone who might have gotten through to the live finals of X-Factor.
All in all, The Voice UK hasn’t impressed me so far. I don’t think that it’s really one single issue that’s detracting from my enjoyment of the show but a mixture of factors contributing to a sensation of dissatisfaction. It’s also difficult to judge how much of a success it has been when the first season isn’t even finished. I’ll be interesting to see what becomes of this series’ winner and whether a second season can maintain as much interest given that this was a new show for the UK and public curiosity is going to give them a lot of viewership. At any rate, I don’t see it as a game changer for reality television. It’s got a few new gimmicks and a lot of talk but, in the end, it’s just another glorified singing competition.