The Voice of Holland: auditioning with a mountain trip or a plateau?

After the first season of Idols that I followed with interest, I quickly dropped out of the sequel and also all the other talent shows that came after it: Too much entertainment, too little (interesting) music, too much advertising, too little respect and often a lot of incompetence. Last year, however, I found myself zapping to the auditions of The Voice of Holland. Despite the fact that musically it often didn’t have my interest, I enjoyed watching a few episodes. The surprise, of course, was mainly that it was a blind audition, and that finally there was a jury making an attempt to take not only themselves, but also the singer and the audience seriously.

The program has now entered its second season and this weekend I watched another of the audition rounds. Singer Marco Borsato appears to have joined as a member of the jury and is still slightly twisting in his seat, trying to find the right approach (“Should I react in a friendly way, or should I be stern? Fatherly perhaps?”). It also seems that for this second season the director wanted to increase the entertainment level: We see Marco full screen with his hands over his eyes (“If only I had pressed now”), jurors make dances for each other when a good candidate choses their team, and there are regular – quasi – arguments among themselves. Of course, I may have just hit a bad night, but based on what I saw and heard, I fear that as the entertainment level has risen, the level of the candidates has dropped accordingly.

I do have a tip for anyone considering taking part in such an audition: Make sure there is a musical twist in that one minute you get to sing. You see, the established pattern with the judges is that they may or may not be pleasantly surprised at the first note. Their hands slide toward the button in the positive case. The moment the candidate continues to sing well (or brilliantly, or even exceptionally well ánd brilliantly) but there is no noticeable change in the intensity of the music (an outburst, a different rhythm, a change in dynamics or voice color), the hands remain in front of the button and there is no pressing. Apparently it takes a second musical impulse to startle the judges out of their reflections, such that their hand moves again this time to actually press that red button.

Because some pieces lacked that impetus, I saw some very good candidates perish sometimes leaving even the judges bewildered “You sing fantastic, I actually don’t know why I didn’t press.” “What a shame. Please keep singing.” “I hope to see you again next year.” So even the (much too) popular “sing loud and high” only pays off in this setting when there is also contrast. Indeed, without those differences in intensity, there is a kind of musical plateau that leads to reflection rather than action (pressing the red button). I myself am very fond of such musical plains but they are especially beautiful when you can surrender to them and experience their grandeur in space and time. However, the journey of the Voice of Holland only lasts 1 to 1.5 minutes. For a plain, that’s not much…

In addition, mountain landscapes are immensely more popular than plains. Most tourists prefer to be taken on a narrow, but safe, mountain path to finally enjoy an unexpected panoramic view on a bench after a not too difficult climb. Ten to one they press a red button ‘completely surprised’. Well, mass tourism does not exist for nothing!

February 2012