The Voice UK came to a surprising end last night with Andrea Begley emerging as victor, triumphing over favourite to win Leah McFall and country crooner Mike Ward. I make no secret of my love for TV shows others would seem facile, irrelevant and a waste of primetime broadcast space. But I don’t want to just review the show. Begley’s victory was a surprise to lots of people, most of all McFall’s enamoured mentor will.i.am. But why exactly were we so surprised?
The winner of series one, Leanne Mitchellr, was a pretty forgettable act. A good singer, but nothing that would ever revolutionise the music industry. And, quelle surprise – she didn’t. This year’s winner, partially-sighted Begley, was a technically better singer, in my very unprofessional opinion. Her vocals were frequently described as ‘angelic’ and ‘haunting’, and coach Danny O’Donoghue played up to this virtuous, wholesome with a series of stage set ups comprising celestial backdrops and dry ice. Her performances were consistently pleasant and very listenable, but there was nothing new.
will.i.am’s protégé, Leah McFall, on the other hand, regularly experimented and pushed her voice to its limits with a range of songs which showed off her insane ability. Tom Jones described her voice as ‘freaky’, and he was right. She is a natural artist, fully formed and ready to go into the studio. Her coach, who tweeted his admiration throughout last night’s live final, this morning tweeted about his intentions to take her to New York City next week to start recording. A lot of people seemed to think she had it in the bag… which is why it was such a surprise when Begley took the title and was announced the winner.
Jessie J didn’t look happy. will.i.am didn’t look happy. Tom looked indifferent. Danny’s joy was evidently peppered with surprise. But think about the audience of a Saturday night BBC 1 show. Leah McFall’s target market wouldn’t be sitting at home voting for an artist on The Voice. Whether or not she was technically the best artist (which I personally believe her to be), that’s not really important if the people who would vote for her didn’t vote for her. Lots of people blamed the bizarre choice of duet with will.i.am for her runner up spot. Will took centre stage with some impressive moves while Leah was left to stand and bleat the word ‘bang’, launching occasionally into a torrent of jazzy scat. But again: the people who liked her loved this. At that late stage in the competition, I honestly don’t think it mattered. Leah had always been painted as the edgy, alternative contestant. She sang Loving You. She sang Killing Me Softly. Hardly wild song. It hardly mattered. Andrea Begley had the nice girl image people wanted.
I don’t mean to say that Begley didn’t deserve to win. The public voted for her and that’s what matters. But I don’t think that this is a case of people assuming Leah would win and failing to pick up the phone to support her. If you forced a representative sample of the UK to sit down and vote, the outcome probably would have been very different. The thing is that Leah could have given the best vocal performance the world has ever seen… but her quirky singing voice just doesn’t appeal to the people who actually vote.
This tends to be the way. Leona Lewis is another example. Safe, uninspiring but can pump out a bit of mum-friendly chart fodder. She’s not bad. She’s just nothing spectacular. I think that these talent shows shouldn’t be about finding something very different to the norm for the sake of it. And this show in particular, The Voice, puts the emphasis on just that: the voice. Andrea had a good voice. Mike had a good voice. The first finalist to go, Matt Henry, had a good voice. Leah had a good voice, but for a completely different audience. But she does have an audience. She made her way into the top 10 of the iTunes chart before the show had even finished. But the majority of viewers of The Voice just aren’t looking for that.
It’s a shame that ‘nice’ has come to be seen as a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with nice. The crowd went wild for Michael Bublé. Nice sells. Nice should be applauded. Yes, it’s safe, and yes, it’s rarely challenging, but that doesn’t make it any worse than an edgy artist. It’s more the attitude people take to ‘nice’ things. Didn’t go on a second date? He was a bit nice. How was last night? Yeah, it was nice. What do you think of this dress? Mmm, it’s nice. Nice implies nothing to write home about. But nice is good, right? Nice seems to come with the caveat that there’s no other dimension. It’s a solid 7/10. Not bad at all. But people often used ‘nice’ as a criticism when referring to Andrea, and it’s a shame that describing someone as nice is almost an insult.
Lots of people were surprised that the nice girl won. It’s no surprise at all, really. This is a primetime weekend BBC talent show. Of course nice won. Leah McFall will sell more records. But Begley got the votes, and she was the right – and in reality, obvious – winner.
What do you think? Will nice always prevail? Do you think Andrea is a worthy winner?