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Thursday 21 September 2017

Our Voice really has the X Factor

THE VOICE OF IRELAND (RTE1, Sun) RAW (RTE1, Sun)

IT WAS sold as the anti-X Factor, a singing contest that for once concentrates on the actual singing instead of on colourful personalities, bickering judges or sob stories about dead dads and ailing grannies. The Voice of Ireland (RTE 1) Raw (RTE1)

It was supposed to banish forever memories of the mediocre You're a Star, which ran for six seasons without finding a single significant or durable talent, and the appalling All-Ireland Talent Show, which was more Tops of the Town than Top of the Pops.

In large measure, the opening edition of The Voice of Ireland, part of a globally successful franchise created by Dutch television titan John de Mol (Big Brother, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Deal or No Deal), did exactly what it said on the jewel case; what's more, it did it exceptionally well.

The production values are notably higher than anything RTE has offered before, while the format, at least in this first of five pre-recorded audition show, is bulletproof. The four coaches/judges sit in large leather chairs with their backs facing the performers. When they hear someone they want for their eventual team of 12, which will be whittled down in subsequent shows, they hit a buzzer and swivel around.

If more than one of them selects a particular contestant, it's up to the contestant themselves to choose which of the four they want to work with.

I still have a couple of reservations about the choice of coaches.

Does anyone genuinely believe Brian Kennedy has, as presenter Kathryn Thomas grandly claimed, "penned some of the greatest Irish songs of the past two decades", or that Westlife's Kian Egan is anything other than a well-oiled component in a cynical, soulless karaoke machine?

On the plus side, balance is provided by Sharon Corr (love 'em or hate 'em, The Corrs have had a long and credible international career) and Niall "Bressie" Breslin, former frontman with The Blizzards, who's now juggling a solo recording career with working as a writer and producer at Pop Idol creator Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment.

These two, in particular, seem in tune with what the show is supposed to be about: finding an original talent with global appeal (the prize for the winner is a recording contract with Universal) rather than a parochial favourite who can pack out their local hotel lounge and cut an album of MOR covers destined to make the swift journey from Christmas stocking to record store bargain bin.

"I was dying for a voice like yours to come along," Bressie told a young man called Conor, who has an idiosyncratic voice as dark, deep and rich as an espresso -- the kind of voice, in other words, that wouldn't get past the door on X Factor, but might well sell a lot of records to people who prefer music to marketing campaigns.

Further evidence of the seriousness with which the judges are taking the show came when a seasoned singer called Tara Blaise, who released two albums, toured with Kennedy and used to share a manager with The Corrs, failed to make the grade after a wobbly performance.

Corr and Kennedy immediately recognised her voice, and were visibly uncomfortable with having to send her home.

Hardly pleasant for Tara, yet a positive sign of things to come.

If television drama reflects the times we live in, then RAW, which returned last night, is like looking into the rear view mirror at a fast-receding idyll.

When it debuted in 2008, the restaurant drama aimed to capture the brash, zesty, sexy essence of a Dublin riding the back of the Celtic Tiger, and pretty much succeeded.

With that particular beast now as extinct as the dodo, this fourth series seems nothing more than shrink-wrapped nostalgia.

The production values are a slick as ever and Charlene McKenna, as the unfortunate Jojo, is a compelling presence, but like departed Sunday night favourite The Clinic, RAW has descended into dreary, soapy melodrama.

Clear your plates.



THE VOICE OF IRELAND 4/5 RAW 2/5

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