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Talent gets a voice

A singing competition that takes no account of how the contestants look hits Thailand's small screens

Publication Date : 07-09-2012


The world's hottest reality singing competition "The Voice" makes its Thailand debut on Sunday night and is being tipped to outdo the rankings of the Kingdom's other popular reality talent shows in much the same way as it zapped "American Idol" in the US.

"I'm surprised at how its changing the way we think. It's a very different format for a singing competition," says Ardkit Suntornwat, managing director of True Music and Panther Entertainment, who watched the US version on YouTube last year.

"If you look back at singing competitions over the last 10 years ago, the focus has been as much as good looks as on a talent for singing and dancing. 'The Voice' is purely about vocal ability. The fact that the coaches turn their backs to all the competitors during the first round - the blind audition - is a simple but surprising mechanism.

"After searching for more information, I found that John de Mol, who created the competition, is the father of reality television. He's the guy who created 'Big Brother', 'Fear Factor' and 'Deal or No Deal'," he adds.

"The Voice" started in the Netherlands as "The Voice of Holland" in 2010. Since then, many other countries have adapted the format, with a spate of national versions taking to the air since 2011. The franchise has now signed a global recording and artist services agreement with Universal Music Group.

But to say that "The Voice" is totally new to Thai audiences is not quite true. Cable provider TrueVisions aired two seasons of the US version on its AXN channel and quickly had viewers hooked. Season 3 starts just a week after the debut of the Thai version.

Much of the reason for the show's popularity is its emphasis on vocal ability and the relationships between the contestants and their coaches.

"It's a genuine talent competition. And each coach really has to work hard to groom his team members. In addition, we also enjoy the wit and experience of the coaches in the process. The audition round, especially in the 'Voice UK' version leaves no room for bias," says Phasanoch Hautavanija, assistant to a Member of Parliament and co-host of Blue Sky Channel.

"I'll definitely be following the Thai version although I'm a bit sceptical as to whether a Thai production will really do justice to the contestants. I'd love to see 'The Voice' free from the prejudices we have in all our other singing contests," he adds.

Kriangsak Suwanpatakul, a dedicated disciple of all foreign series, has watched both the US and UK versions but says he is yet to become a fan. "I watched the first season but lost interest in the second. Some say 'The Voice UK' is better than US but I don't see much difference. What I really like though, is how they really judge the singers by their voices.

"I watched the trailer for the Thai series, which shows the judges trying to convince the singers to be on their teams. It looked like fun but it was also slightly annoying. It'd be more interesting if the Voice Thailand showed more of these non-mainstream singing talents and maybe switched them around to sing something they are not comfortable with just to show what they're capable of as vocalists."

New graduate Dararat Jirenuwat, who is hooked on "The Voice US", says her favourite section is the blind audition. "It shows that you need more than a beautiful and powerful voice to attract the attention of a coach. The contestants must have something extra."

She says she will give "The Voice Thailand" a try. "If it's fun, I'll follow it."

Seventeen-year-old Maytita T is a fan of all singing shows, both local and foreign but prefers "The Voice" to any of them because it is all about talent.

"They really have to be able to entertain with their voices. I'm looking forward to the Thai version."

Certainly, the competition has caught the attention of Thailand's singers: more than 4,000 people applied for the preliminary around - 200 from Phuket alone - and 140 were selected for the blind audition. The broadcast starts with this number.

"We are surprised by the large number of applicants and the quality of the singing. The team from Holland told me that I could expect people who didn't feel they had any attractive physical attributes but who could really sing to enter the competition and they were right. What's important, as the programme's catchphrase says, is the voice, Ardkit says.

The four coaches for Thailand's version are Saharat "Kong" Sangkapreecha, Jennifer Kim, Apisit Opsasaimlikit aka Joey Boy and Apiwat "Stamp" Eurthavornsuk, with Songsit "Kob" Roongnophakunsri taking on the duties as host.

"We wanted real artists with strong and very individual characters. Jennifer had never seen the competition but once she learned about the show, told me she was born to be a coach for a contest that cared nothing for looks.

"Joey's outstanding point is not so much his voice but his talent for lyrical communication and his production knowledge. Stamp is a new-generation artist who young singers trust while Kong has one of the most tender voices I've ever heard," says Ardkit.

"Kob was chosen because the host must know about music yet be different from the coaches. In America, it's Carson Daly who was a VJ with MTV while 'The Voice' UK's host works on the BBC."

The budget for the show is 180 million baht, of which the best part of B5 million has gone into the preparations for the auditions and 25-30 million baht for the studio production.

"I think a show like this takes us back to basics," says Ardkit. "In the past, listening to music wasn't supported by a music video. The most important thing was the voice."


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