I’m not sure what concerns me the most about this program – that it uses vulnerable children as a source of entertainment for adults, or that it just doesn’t work as a series. Let me give you four reasons why…
The Voice Kids is a spin-off of the worldwide adult phenomena, The Voice. Like its parent, contestants sing to the back of chairs containing musical celebrities – in this case Delta Goodrem, ex-Scary Spice Mel B. and the double act Joel and Benji Madden – hoping that one will turn around and invite them on their team. They’ll then spend the coming weeks battling it out against each other, the less talented being discarded one by one until the Nine Network finally declares it has found Australia’s first ‘’…er, ‘The Voice Kids Champion’…‘Australia’s Voice of The Kids’? No, not even the title works…
What might work in an adult format comes off looking more like The Hunger Games once children become involved. No-one, most of all the broadcaster, is really thinking about its inherent problems:
1. A child’s confidence is borrowed. It doesn’t matter how happy they appear on stage, it’s clear contestants as young as nine years old are unlikely to have the slightest idea what ‘a career in music’ will require. At this age their dreams of becoming a star are pieced together from video clips, posters and TV interviews. By contrast, the adult champions of The Voice are those who’ve passed through all sorts of character-building experiences that protect their identity and help them persevere. A primary school child has none of these. Instead, a significant proportion of their confidence and will be supplied by the parents who brought them to the auditions. At this age they are beautiful, talented… puppets, with all the fragility of a marionette.
2. And sooo easily crushed. The confidence child performers display is also built on the acceptance they receive from significant people in their lives. Of course their parents will stand by them, but what about the celebrities that The Voice Kids celebrates? When they turn around are they really offering support through thick and thin, or just for a season? And even when the chairs turn it might not be enough. During the premier a nine year old girl shared with the camera that her real hope was Delta would turn, because she admired her most of all. Her performance turned two out of three chairs but not her heroine’s, and her tears became a TV spectacle. And what of the twin girls from Perth who didn’t manage to turn a single chair? They held it together for the camera but their little brother was clearly crushed. Does anyone really think a nationally televised rejection, however well handled, will have no effect?
3. It only gets worse from here…Joel Madden let slip during his praise for one of the talent that the series will follow exactly the same format as it’s parent program. Remember what follows the Blind Auditions? The Battle Rounds (child against child), then the Showdowns (the judges choose their favourites) and the Live Finals (Australia votes on each performer’s talent). Expectations will rise and the hits will keep coming. We’ve watched adults melt under this pressure, and what do the kids really gain?
4.…And there’s no gold at the end of the rainbow. We’ve finally arrived at my greatest concern. The offer of a recording contract with Universal Music is the cruelest tease of all. There is no career waiting for these kids. The Voice itself regularly features contestants who were child prodigies with regular television appearances and national opportunities, who failed to make anything of their ‘golden opportunities’. The sad reality is kids don’t buy kid’s albums. They don’t have the spending power and even when they do, they focus on the adult stars the contestants are emulating. Nine would have been better off leaving the recording contract out and concentrating on the family holiday, the tuition and other relevant experiences.
I’m not writing this as a rejection of all talent shows for kids. I’m just asking for a perspective check, mostly from us, the audience. Personally, I would have hoped Nine would have learnt something from the Masterchef Kids experience. However this sort of spin-off is symptomatic of a format coming to the end of its life – there’s only so much hidden talent to be unearthed our full roster of talent shows – and you can hardly blame a broadcaster for attempting to elongate a program’s life. But as viewers we’d do well to remember that childhood is the time to protect young personalities as they learn to be the people we hope they will one day become. The Bible marks out this time as one in which to train rather than let loose, so our kids can develop the strength to stay on the right path “…and when they are old they will not turn from it.” It might make for an ‘inspiring’ Sunday night, but the kids themselves gain little from supporting our adult fantasies.
Distributor: Nine Network
Release Date: Sundays, 6:30 PM