Using The Voice UK as writing inspiration

We’ve been loving #TheVoiceUK on Saturday/Sunday evenings; enjoying the songs and predicting who will win, and drawing inspiration.

For anyone who’s not seen the show, contestants walk onto a stage and sing their hearts out to four chair-backs, each of which hides a judge (a pro singer). If a judge likes the sound of the voice, they can whack a button, turn around, see the contestant and offer to coach them. Contestants who get a coach then proceed to various knockout rounds: battles, solos, duets, and public voting rounds until one is crowned winner.


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

Secondly, the judges’ choices inspire me, because they don’t always pick the “best” technical singers; they’re all great but sometimes the chosen ones are those who just appeal, who have individual quirks or something special, indefinable, that can be developed. They talk about originality, authenticity, and the emotion invested in the song. We listeners can feel it too; there are some singers out there who hold a raw, deep, human quality that can’t be ignored. Perhaps it’s something we all know and recognise, and 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 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 find so much to take from this show. 

First, the impact of the singers. My favourite singers stay with me, some years after hearing them, even though they didn’t all win. It’s like reading a perfect story; once you’ve resonated, it’s hard to forget, and remembering is a joy.

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? She did really well, got to the live shows, and was then voted out by someone. I don’t remember those details, just remember her voice, and Tom Jones saying that the energy seemed to come up out of the ground. It was true, she sang like she channelled something deep and essential.

A couple of years later, how did Cody Frost (Team George) not win? Really? She was all the goosebumps at our house, we fell in love with her tone, her energy, her smile and just everything about this:

So there are two great singers, and if they can end up not winning a show, then there should be no worries about failure for any of us ever again because “winning” and “losing” must be entirely relative terms.

How could we, as writers, ever be worried about what we put out there, when these people are placing their entire selves on a stage in front of millions and spilling out their souls? Each one of these singers reached into their coaches, their audiences, their friends and family, and hauled out emotions. Watching the show, you see the coaches choke up as their singers push themselves higher, pouring their lives into the notes.

And in some ways, this does more for my writing than reading.

If I read brilliant writers’ work, I can enjoy their skill and their stories but I can’t assume that I would 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 won something with the first note; they did something the moment they opened their mouths and sucked in the air to sing. 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 a huge extent depend on how much soul we can pour out. How much we own our songs and our stories. How much we give.

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

And now…

Mo. Team JHud.

Image attribution

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