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Monday, May 7, 2012

In Defence of 'The Voice'

Everyone's talking about it. Channel 9 execs must be punching the air. But a lot of people are saying that they don't understand why professional singers, particularly those with family connections, are part of a TV show like The Voice. Surely Mahalia Barnes, daughter of Aus Rock royalty, doesn't need a leg up in her career? My answer is, you are talking about her now and possibly keen to buy her records now. Was that the case before you saw her on the show, even though you had heard of her? In this extraordinarily competitive industry, family connections don't ensure success. I didn't even know Guy Sebastian had a brother till The Voice told me.

Even with the power of the internet and its importance in building music careers, a national TV show watched by almost three million viewers a few times a week is the most potent exposure an artist could get. TV is the king in music promotion. Surely singers that have already done the hard yards, that have got to the point - on their own steam - where they are good enough to be Delta Goodrem's backing singer, deserve and can make best use of an opportunity like The Voice. It's the chance to become known by the masses. We already have Australian Idol, X Factor, Australia's Got Talent and previously, Pop Stars, to unearth brand new talent.

When I ran the singer-songwriter showcase 'PopTarts', I worked with a lot of refugees from shows like Idol, great new artists who became bitter and despondent from their TV experiences. In most cases it was because it was all too much too soon. Their careers hadn't been given the chance to develop naturally before they were thrust into the limelight. That light can get switched off very suddenly, leaving the subject ill-prepared to stand in the shadows. A singer who has done the groundwork over the years and proven their commitment to their art is best placed to sustain a successful career after this kind of intense TV exposure. What percentage of Idols or products of the X Factory are still going strong?

Like many of my pro singer friends, I got an invitation from the producers of The Voice to audition for the show. Hold on to your hats... I said no. 'But you said...!' I know! I get why people like me want to be on a show like this. But it's not for me. I should probably admit to some fear about these kind of shows, after watching Idol and their ilk as they shoot for ratings dominance by often publicly tearing down their acts. As an already established performer, that felt like an awful lot to risk. Of course I now see that The Voice is taking a much kinder, more supportive approach to their artists, which thankfully seems to be striking the right chords with its audience.

The other reason will no doubt see me labelled as a freak, of the control variety. I have done the requisite bleeding, sweating and crying of tears to develop the career I have. It may only be a little one, held together with bandaids in part, but I'm proud of my career and it is all mine. Handing it over to the producers of a TV Show, and all that entails including control of image and output, was a step I was loathe to take. But now - at the risk of sounding like a football commentator - we, the audience, are the winners in all this. How many times can you switch on the TV and see a gathering of such fine talent all in the same place? And more power to them!