herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

It's time to silence Voice of Ireland ... and then do what?

Una Foden, Kian Egan with Rachel Stevens and Bressie during a recording of The Voice of Ireland in The Helix
Una Foden, Kian Egan with Rachel Stevens and Bressie during a recording of The Voice of Ireland in The Helix

AN item in Michael O’Doherty’s column in The Herald this week made for amusing if hardly revelatory reading.

MOD mentioned that the single by this year’s winner of The Voice of Ireland, Patrick Donoghue, sold just 91 copies in its first few days of release.

By the time you read this, of course, sales of Mama Knows Best (a cover of a Jessie J original, so I’m told) could well have gone through the ceiling — provided we’re talking about the ceiling of a doll’s house.

The winner wasn’t the biggest loser, however. Fellow finalist Sarah McTernan shifted just 35 copies of Who You Are, another song by Jessie J, who’d no doubt be enjoying the royalties if there any worth totting up, while Ian McKillop’s version of The Script’s We Cry sold a cripplingly embarrassing 12.

The finalist who sold most was runner-up Emma Humber, whose cover of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work shifted a grand total of 117 units. But the beyond-dismal sales figures aren’t the real story here.

Common sense says few people (and certainly nobody with a genuine love of music) will pay money, even if it’s only €1.29, for a second-rate cover of an established artist’s song by a nobody when they can buy the genuine article for the same price or sometimes less.

This is not exclusive to The Voice of Ireland, either. Releases by the winners of the British and American versions of the franchises have been met with similar indifference from the music-buying public.

And just like the Irish version, those shows have failed miserably to unearth anyone with genuine, durable star quality. Nobody believes anymore that the pop and rock stars of tomorrow are entering TV talent shows.

They’re in garages and bedrooms, writing, rehearsing, recording and uploading their own music, or out on the road playing gigs in any pub, club, college hall or community centre, no matter how dingy, they can find. It’s called learning your craft, and it’s the way everyone and anyone from The Beatles to The Strypes have done it for decades.

The funny thing about all this — unless you’re Universal Music and committed to giving a record contract to a winner who can’t sell records, in which case it’s not funny at all — is that while public interest in what Patrick Donoghue does next seems to be almost zero, 470,000 people still tuned in to last Sunday’s final of The Voice of Ireland.

Then again, the Irish are a strange, inconsistent and contradictory race at the best of times, and never more so than in our weird relationship with television.

To try to understand the viewing habits of the Irish people is to venture down a rabbit hole more deranged than the one that swallowed up Alice. I’m quite happy to accept a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah; why 450,000 viewers a week love to watch Francis Brennan fussing over B&B bed covers in At Your Service, on the other hand, is harder to fathom.

Even trickier to wrap your head around is the behaviour of RTE. Proportionately, the domestic audience for The Voice of Ireland is roughly equivalent to that of the BBC version in Britain. Both shows, whatever you feel about them (and I personally don’t like singing competitions), are huge audience hits.

You won’t catch the BBC talking about axing The Voice UK, yet RTE seems on the verge of cancelling The Voice of Ireland. A  request for programme submissions to fill the Sunday evening was issued months ago.

Latest rumours suggest that this time next year we could be looking at Ireland’s Got Talent, possibly featuring Louis Walsh. Cry havoc and let slip the dancing dogs of war!

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