A fresh take on the talent show formula
Australian viewers are no strangers to programs promising to unearth the hidden talents amongst us. Everything from the mainstream Australian Idol to the more diverse Australia’s Got Talent have provided dream opportunities for obscure performers to launch their careers. But The Voice sets itself apart in this flagging format by including two ‘x-factors’ most programs have only toyed with: humility and service.
The key to this televised singing contest is its commitment to only admit people who can actually sing. This might sound like something of a no-brainer but in actuality previous talent programs have put a great deal of emphasis on the complete package – how does the contestant look, move, project their personality? The Voice begins with a blind audition where four celebrity judges are asked to select who they think should compete by listening with their backs to the singer. This makes for compelling television because what becomes immediately apparent is that there are a number of people stepping up to the microphone who would have only managed a mention on the blooper reel for past programs. Casey Withoos, a large 22-year-old woman with the voice of an angel was very clear on how counter this opportunity ran to the way the world had treated her to date:
“When I was in school I hid behind being witty. I’ve always been judged by how I look. This is the only chance to be judged not by my weight.”
A different kind of judge
The truly talented panel of judges provides the other distinguishing factor. In the Australian version, The Nine Network has achieved a real coup, assembling Delta Goodrem, Seal, Keith Urban and Joel Madden to not only select the contestants but serve them as well. Each aims to assemble a team who they will personally mentor through the competition, using their talents and connections to bring out the best performance. If two or more judges want the same singer then they have to actually convince that contestant that they will be the best person to help their career. There’s no place here for the ego-centric Simon Cowell type judges from previous shows. The judges are not only aware of what it takes to rise to the top, they feel personally blessed to be chosen to nurture these often overlooked talents.
The Voice makes it clear just how hard it can be to be heard in a country that is ostensibly all about a fair go but drools over the glamour of celebrity. 19-year-old Karise Eden has clearly struggled, having dropped out of school at 12 and slipped in and out of foster homes. She confessed in her background interview:
Doing something like this is like saying, ‘I’m here – can you listen to me?’
But there was no one to judge her piercings she began to sing, and the obvious understanding of life’s pain that emerged in her first few bars had all four judges turning simultaneously.
The Bible's talent quest
Few people would realise it, but the Bible actually had its own talent quest long before modern TV producers cottoned on to the idea. The Old Testament book of Esther is about a Godly woman who becomes the queen of an empire because of her good looks. But it is the wise advice of her mentor Mordecai that keeps her level headed throughout the heady years that follow. I’m hoping that The Voice will deliver something like that result for those it elevates. Winning is one thing, but what you do with your podium is far more important. As Mordecai advised Esther, God bestows greatness so that we have the opportunity to speak out:
If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? (Esther)
The Voice could accomplish a great deal by raising humble people to new heights. But let’s not be naïve. The end result will depend very much on how the contestants respond to the spotlight God gives them.