First Look At… The Voice UK

It’s been over a decade since the reality talent show machine clunked into action and since then, squat middle-aged receptionists belting out ‘I Will Always Love You’ in the style of a car alarm have become a Saturday night entertainment phenomenon rivalled only by tone deaf teenagers.

But swapping judges for supportive “coachesâ€? and buzzers for the gentle swoosh of a revolving chair, new talent show The Voice, will bring a different flavour to the tried and tested talent show format when it debuts on 24th March.

Forget judges raising an alarmed eyebrow at the sight of an overweight father of two, or a trampy-looking Elvis impersonator, “the star of this show is musicâ€?. “Which is as it should beâ€?, gushes host Holly Willoughby who will team up with Radio 1’s Reggie Yates as the easier to distinguish equivalent of rival primetime duo, Ant and Dec.

Using a series of “blind auditionsâ€?, coaches Jessie J,, Tom Jones and Danny O’Donoghue will be forced to judge contestants on the basis of their voice alone. But, this time, there will be no horrendous wailing.

“You don’t even get onto the blind auditions on this show unless you’re a singer…everyone’s seen a voice coach, the aim is not to put bad singers throughâ€?, explains Danny Cohen, Controller of BBC One.

In an industry obsessed by “imageâ€?, the theory is that anonymity grants these (potentially hideous but highly talented) hopefuls a chance to impress using their voice alone. Once sufficient goosebumpage has occurred, coaches are then able to show interest in the act by pressing a buzzer and spinning their chair round. Then, and only then, do they get their first glimpse of the person behind the voice – whoever they are and whatever they look like. Unlike the brutal “boop” of doom inflicted by BGT judges, The Voice‘s buzzers will signal hope for a wannabe singer.

“What’s lovely about this showâ€?, explains Ms J, “is that it’s opened up a whole new group of people who have obviously been around for a while, while other shows existed, but not felt they’ve been given the opportunity to showcase what it’s about, which is the voice.”

But with such a wealth of talent on offer, surely there is a chance that more than one coach will like the sound of what they hear? If the inevitable happens, the coaches go head to head, battling it out for the act in sequences which provide some of the best entertainment value of the whole show (cue reeling off album stats vs. Tom Jones telling Elvis anecdotes).

“There’s a wonderful reversal of powerâ€?, says Cohen. “You’ve got these people, new to the industry, full of hope that they’re going to have a career and at that point its Sir Tom Jones, Jessie J, Danny O’Donoghue and trying to convince them they are right for them.â€?

After the initial selection rounds, each coach will have ten acts in their “teamâ€?. The show then kicks into full swing with a series of live showdowns which will leave each judge with five acts to throw onto the mercy of the Great British public who will vote for a winner after a few further sing-offs (all the money goes to charidee, of course).

The BBC has spent a reported £22 million on bringing the Dutch format to British shores, with over a million dropped on the pay-packets of the panel members. For Tom Jones, the Beeb couldn’t have spent enough of fee payer’s money getting the panel right.

“When I was first asked to do this show the first thing I wanted to know is, wait a minute – who are the other three coaches going to be? Where are you going to get these people from? Are they qualified?â€?, explains the Welsh legend (and yes, he has his hat on).“I’m very satisfied with all the ingredients that have gone into it – now it’s up to us, as coaches, and it’s up to, of course, the talent that comes on.â€?

But it’s not just Sir Tom who is thrilled to find himself alongside such credible musical talent. Relative newcomers Jessie, Danny and are in awe of the hip-swiveling legend who has enjoyed an incredible five decades in the limelight.

The Voice has already been a hit with U.S. audiences

“The difference between this show and the American one is Tomâ€?, says Black Eyed Pea, will. “Because he grounds it in so much authenticity. I’m just honoured to go be able to go back to America and see Cee Lo and be like “yeah, you know, I was just hanging out with Tomâ€?.â€?

“He’s just a legend isn’t heâ€?, says The Script frontman who had a number one selling album with Science and Faith in 2010. “I find it quite hard to sleep after the day’s filming.â€?

With its high profile coaching talent, flashy stage and prime time Saturday night slot, the show has clearly being designed to hit the big time. Beeb bosses will no doubt have fingers and toes crossed that the show succeeds where previous corporation attempts at the reality talent show have failed (see: Fame Academy, DanceX et al).

Standing in their way will be ITV and the Britain’s Got Talent brigade; the channel recently announced that it would be launching the brand new series of BGT on the same night as The Voice makes its debut, March 24. With such an established audience and ITV’s expertise at all things glitzy and loud behind them, are the show’s bosses worried about the competition?

“We’re not in a battle with anyone we’re not interested in raising tensionsâ€?, says Cohen. “I think X Factor’s a great show, I think Britain’s Got Talent is a great show.

“We’re really focussed on our show being brilliant…and I’m sure ITV will feel the same.â€?

No matter what the producers and the channel execs say, it will be the audiences who decide whether to ditch the buzzer-prompted ITV jeer fest in favour of a search for serious musical prowess.

So which one will you tune into come 24 March?