The Voice is the Nine Network’s top ratings earner at present, delivering more than healthy audiences every Sunday and Monday night as it moves into its ‘Showdown’ fortnight. But is this the last hurrah for the reality music genre? Are audiences tweaking to the fact that it’s not all about the talent after all?
For those not familiar with the format – an ever-decreasing portion of the Australian population, if the ratings are to be believed – The Voice follows the familiar territory of previous talent shows, seeking to unearth unknown Australian singers and launch them into stardom. The gimmick that sets this series apart is that in the early stages, ‘The Blinds’, the celebrity judges listen to the competitors with their backs turned, unable to evaluate anything but ‘the voice’. In this fourth series the stars have been returning coaches Joel Maddon and Ricky Martin, and newcomers Kylie Minogue and Will.i.am. Those that choose to turn around for the talent then describe what wisdom they can offer to boost their career if the singer deigns to join their team. But the generosity of past years’ may now be falling foul of the series’ competitive goals.
Last year I described The Voice as a ray of hope in what was becoming a very cut-throat Reality TV genre. It’s not hard to find programs where competitors are encouraged to tear each other down while constructing their own dreams – The Block, House Rules and My Kitchen Rules to name a few. However The Voice retained something of an altruistic edge and I think that has helped boost its early ratings to upwards of 1.6 million viewers, twice a week. But as the series progresses its becoming clear that team tactics are more important than unearthing talent.
Seven time Grammy Award winner Will.i.am was the first to break it to a singer with a golden voice that though he liked her, he had to make a “…strategic decision.” Since then other judges have chimed in that they don’t have room for things like ‘another guitarist’ or they’re looking for a ‘great female voice’. And as judges moved into the Battle Rounds where they pitted their own team against each other, it also became clear some artists were being matched for the sake of what one might draw out of the stronger competitor. It’s not all cynical yet, but The Voice has definitely taken a turn towards tactical team playing.
But in the greater scheme of things The Voice continues to please Australian audiences … for now. It’s a qualification I add because of the way this musical genre is going overseas. American Idol, a show that delivered the Fox Network in excess of $3 billion dollars in profit is now struggling to return survival ratings, with the average age of its audience rising from 32 to 52 this season. Idol creator Simon Cowl blames the proliferation of copycats:
“They flooded the market. There have just been a ton of shows and something has simply gone awry.”
– a rich claim from the man who followed up his own success with The X Factor and America’s Got Talent. But Australian Idol has already bit the dust and The X Factor and Australia’s Got Talent are likely to return with tweaks to their own format, as this TV gravy train shows signs of pulling into the station. Though its riding high, The Voice is clearly considering its own future announcing the launch of its market-scrounging spin-off The Voice Kids for later this year.
In one sense, though, none of this is terribly new. Formats come and go as audience interest waxes and wanes. If you don’t believe me, go looking for that top-rating genre of the 1960s, the Western. It’s reflective of a cycle of excitement, satiation and dissatisfaction that the human race experiences in every avenue of its existence. Even in preaching the Apostle Paul warns his protégé Timothy about the perverse tastes of audiences:
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
The unsatisfied search for the best arises from our desire to turn good things into God things. For a time we think that talent or houses or cooking – even more exciting preaching – will satisfy our desires. What we don’t realise is that the hole we’re trying to fill is the absence of our Creator and so, naturally, everything else fails to live up to our expectations. My hope is that we will realise Who we’re really looking for, and be able to enjoy the good things He gives, without settling for the best a celebrity coach or a TV can offer.
Distributor: The Nine Network
Release Date: Sundays, 6:30 PM & Mondays, 7:30 PM