Using The Voice UK as writing inspiration

We’ve been loving #TheVoiceUK on Saturday/Sunday evenings. For anyone who’s not seen it, contestants walk onto a stage and sing to four chair-backs, each of which hides a judge (a pro singer). If a judge likes the voice, they whack a button, turn around, and offer to coach the contestant. Contestants who get a coach then proceed to various knockout battles, solos, and duets, till one is crowned winner.

So.

First up, I can’t sing for toffee so this whole thing, to me, is remarkably impressive. I mean, really.

Secondly, the judges don’t always pick the “best” technical singers; the chosen ones sometimes just appeal, have individual quirks or something indefinable that can be developed. Judges talk about originality, authenticity, and the emotion invested in the song. We can feel it too; some singers hold a raw, deep, human quality that can’t be ignored. It chimes within us — the truth or essence of someone, the need to sing, the heart and soul coming out of people who are often really young and probably terrified, yet somehow they shove themselves out there and go for it.

Over the seasons, judges have included Will.i.am and Sir Tom Jones (still there) and a selection of others including Jessie J, Kylie Minogue, Danny O’Donoghue, Ricky Wilson, Rita Ora, Boy George and Paloma Faith. This season, Jennifer Hudson and Gavin Rossdale joined the show, making one of my favourite teams so far. They all like different things and explore different singers.

As a writer, I take a lot from this show. 

First, the impact. My favourite singers stay with me, years after hearing them, even though they didn’t all win. It’s like reading a perfect story; once you’ve resonated, you don’t forget.

There was Ruth Brown in 2012 (Team Tom, watch Tom’s face as he listens, and is that Will wishing he had her on his team?). How come Ruth didn’t win the whole show and everything ever since, with that voice? I remember Tom Jones saying that the energy seemed to come up out of the ground. It was true, she sang like she channelled something essential.

A couple of years later, how did Cody Frost (Team George) not win? Really? She was all the goosebumps at our house.

Each one of these singers reached into their audiences and hauled out emotions. The coaches choke up as their singers push themselves higher, pouring themselves (their stories) into the notes.

If I read brilliant writers’ work, I can enjoy their skill and their stories but can’t assume that I’d be able to achieve the same, because there’s always the worry that they’re technically better, or have more training, or natural talent, or, or… some worry or other. But seeing and hearing these singers removes the process from myself and allows me to appreciate it from a distance, and to realise that the training and skill has to be accompanied by an unrestrained (although not necessarily uncontrolled) offering of self for it to work.

It’s not possible to watch these singers and to still fear failure or rejection, because we all know that they did something the moment they opened their mouths and sucked in air. And in a different way, but not that different, that’s what we do when we write — we place our words on a different stage, pour ourselves into it. And whether or not we succeed will to some extent depend on how much soul we give.

Here’s one who won. Andrea Begley (Team Danny – watch his face).

And Mo. Team JHud.

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