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The sweet sound of success

It is a smash hit poised to redraw the ratings battle lines. Michael Idato reveals 10 reasons why The Voice works so well.

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1. It's affirmative TV

Nice TV? Not a bad idea. Nice reality TV? Now, there's a risk. The genre that has always made so much of being mean to people is the last place you expect to see acts of kindness. But The Voice has kindness in spades. The drift away from the mean old days of Big Brother and Australian Idol is well discussed and other shows, notably Channel Seven's Australia's Got Talent and The X Factor, have softened their tone significantly in recent seasons. But The Voice manages to create a perfect storm of affirmation: integrity, respect and care.

2. It swims against the tide

Studio-based reality shows have always been about scale. In this genre, bigger is better. Bigger sets, more noise, thousands of screaming auditionees. The Voice plays against that, enclosing the studio and its inhabitants in a more intimate blanket. OK, the set is shiny and has touches of scale at the right times. But when it counts, it draws viewers in to that one solitary voice. Backstory is (thankfully) brief, we're hyperbole-lite and the performances stand alone.

3. It's all about the singing

You would not think that was such a strange notion for a TV talent quest, but most TV talent quests are framed in terms of emotional backstories and other interruptions and diversions, the theory being that singing alone is not enough to sustain the narrative. In ratings terms, there are about 2.5 million reasons why that's wrong. The Voice is simply about the search for a perfect singing voice, irrespective of size, shape or style. To that end, as a gimmick, the ''blind auditions'' (that is, the fact that the mentors cannot see the contestants while they audition) works beautifully.


4. The contestants aren't teenagers

Reality TV loves to drink from the fountain of youth. Even shows that celebrate older contestants, such as Australia's Got Talent, tend to see those who don't fit the commercial brief - that is, younger and prettier - peel away as competition intensifies. The Voice has its share of young, pretty things, but it also has misfits and old rockers. Enough to assure the audience that the focus of the show isn't just skin-deep.

5. The format feels original

Make no mistake, The Voice was cranked out of a factory just like every other format on TV. In this case, the Dutch format The Voice of Holland, under the watchful eye of John de Mol, one of Europe's most successful format producers. He founded Endemol, the first large-scale format production company. It has already been remade by the US, Britain, Serbia, Ukraine, Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Ireland and Romania. And yet it feels original. It has a clarity and a simplicity that is easy to grasp.

6. The mentors speak plain English

There is a tendency in talent shows to either populate the panel with people who are out of their depth or simply sink into cliche. Case in point: the phrase ''you nailed it'', which was repeated ad nauseum on the now-defunct format Popstars [Live] and should forever be erased from the talent TV show mentor's lexicon. The mentors in The Voice - Seal, Joel Madden, Delta Goodrem and Keith Urban - speak plainly and with wisdom.

7. The mentors have an impeccable pedigree

While other shows in the genre tend to opt for the traditional mix of recording artists and other personalities such as radio stars or record company executives, The Voice features recording artists only. And not just any old recording artists, but some of the world's most successful. Urban, in particular, talks about musical artistry with such understanding that the contestants, not to mention the audience, seem to hang on his every word. Even the rejections - when none of the four judges turn around, effectively eliminating the contestant - seem to finish on a high and hopeful note. That's no small achievement.

8. It puts the power in the hands of the contestants

The traditional framework of a talent show keeps the judges behind a safety line and leaves the contestant alone in the spotlight. The Voice inverts that spectacularly. When more than one mentor turns around, the contestant is left to choose which of them to accept. It has led to some of the show's most delightful moments - such as Madden on his knees, pleading - and to some of its most tense - such as Goodrem walking off after a succession of losses to the other judges, compounded by losing Chris Sebastian, whom she knew, to Seal.

9. It's manipulative, but it makes no pretence it isn't

''I don't want to be thought of as the blind girl who sings,'' legally blind Rachael Leahcar said after her audition. Perhaps the most revealing thing about The Voice is not that it manipulates its audience but that it does so without any attempt to conceal the manipulation and that the audience seem entirely comfortable with it. Honesty, perhaps, is the best policy.

10. It's the national conversation

And if you think it isn't, 2.5 million people in the nation's five mainland state capital cities disagree. Even more if you believe press releases or you follow Delta Goodrem on Twitter. Nothing breeds success like success and nothing attracts an audience more than the thought that what is happening on TV is going to be tomorrow's hot topic of conversation: Delta's walkout, Guy Sebastian's brother Chris auditioning and Rachael Leahcar's wrenching performance of Edith Piaf's La Vie En Rose.

The Voice
Nine, Monday 8pm and Tuesday 7.30pm