The Voice: Right Direction for TV Talent Shows?

X Factor and BGT are stale and superficial in comparison to The Voice, argues Ivan Inkling.

The recent introduction of BBC’s ‘The Voice’ has brought a breath of fresh air to the otherwise utterly soul destroying business of ‘reality TV’. Although I’ll freely acknowledge that I’m very unlikely to ever buy any of the products which The Voice will eventually try and flog to us, the programme is certainly a step forward for the genre of television and society in general.

The X Factor and BGT rely on a half praise, half laughter approach where the crowd are encouraged to mock undesirable contestants. In contrast, contestants on The Voice have all been vetted to ensure that only competitors which stand a realistic chance are aired on TV. This is not to say that unrealistic contestants shouldn’t be aired, but shows such as BGT and the X Factor’s humiliation based approach have led the way in showing why they shouldn’t.

Competitions run by Cowell rely entirely on creating their own social norms. If competitors do not fit the precise norms dictated by Cowell they will not make it to the next round. Nothing is strictly wrong with allowing the ‘best’ people to go through, but the fact that the show is usually aided by sound bites from the judges stating how rejected contestants are ‘weird’ or by highlighting the hilarity of the contestants failure to meet the norms dictated by Cowell is worrying.

Compare this to The Voice which is gracious in both victory and defeat. Those who make it through are first of all ‘chosen’ by judges, and then also get to choose a mentor themselves. This lowers the status of the panel from god like figures to real people who have a desire to aid the competitor. Even candidates who don’t make it are given positive feedback on how to improve, told to carry on and applauded off.

The celebrity culture of reality TV implies that the panel are in some way better than the viewer and contestant – contestants should be honoured to stand in the same room as Tulisa and company. The Voice removes this and makes the judges feel much more human, rather than Cowell and co who presumably eat the corpses of orphans between cuts.

Ironically, there is actually very little reality in reality TV. Big Brother asks us to judge people based upon 7 hours of footage neatly cut to exaggerate each personality. This is not reality in the slightest, in reality we ignore annoying people, we don’t gather in large crowds to jeer at them. This is no message to subconsciously drill into society.

Another issue is the way ordinary life is portrayed as awful with celebrity being the only escape. The X-factor and BGT show the journey towards the joyous moment of Daryll getting his dream job on TV but they don’t broadcast an episode of his label dropping him, his increasingly stalkerish fanbase invading his property and causing a mental breakdown. Instead we are given yet another series, where you have the chance to become the new Daryll, conveniently showing highlights of his ‘best bits’ but ignoring the fact he is now in prison for crimes that cannot be mentioned pre-watershed. TV has a natural tendency to show average life as something that needs to be escaped. How can viewers attain that MTV cribs lifestyle? Well, the solution is to become a reality TV star.

Other shows outside the reality genre manage to be entertaining without shoving this lifestyle guff down our throats. The X-Factor tells us that the best route to living the high life is to follow the social norms dictated by high waisted poncho Simon Cowell. Furthermore it creates the illusion that 12 weeks of singing for 5 minutes on a Saturday is gruelling schedule which deserves a number 1 single at the end of it. It suggests that the brief moment of ecstasy the winner experiences is how their life continues, ignoring the way it has broken several personalities in the process.

The Voice is a step forward in ‘reality’ TV because it focuses on the positives and makes much less of an attempt to tell the viewer what is socially acceptable as normal – but it still has no likelihood of providing the winner with a sustainable career as a ‘reality star’.

Am I wrong? If so slaughter me in the comments box below.