“I am nervous about people watching me on the show,” Rita Ora says, speaking at the launch of The Voice UK’s new series. People have one perception of me: they see my music videos, but they may not know the real me. So yeah it’s intimidating, because this is like I am giving myself to the viewing public. I’m going to watch it with my family…” she smiles, looking just a little concerned. Having only just joined The Voice UK coaching panel, Rita has already decided that performing in front of a crowd of thousands isn’t as hard as trying to spot talent during the blind auditions.
“I’d rather be on stage for three hours, singing and sweating, than sitting in that chair for more than seven hours!” she laughs. “You just never know what’s about to happen. But I love that – it’s a completely different adrenalin rush.” Aside from her (reported) six-figure paycheck from the BBC, Rita had personal motivations for taking her place in the big red chair – and turning down Simon Cowell’s offer to be an X-Factor judge. “I agreed to do this show because I believe in what it stands for. I like the natural process of the show; everything seems really real and I love the fact that the artists can actually sing. I respect the coaches, and I was a fan of the show. I also wanted to help, because there was someone who really helped me with my career. A person who really believed in me – and I want to be that person for someone else,” she says.
Her fellow coach and the panel’s most flamboyant dresser, Will.i.am also feels a personal responsibility to The Voice contestants. Like Rita, who said that the awkward situation when none of the judges spin their chairs for a singer “took some getting used to,” Will empathises with people auditioning for the show. “I know what it is like to have a door slammed in my face. I know what it feels like to be rejected, and the fact that the rejection is coming from me now: that hurts. I don’t ever want to be the door slammer for someone. After four years doing it, it still hurts me every time that happens,” he says. Looking back to the beginning of his super successful career, the record producer and Black Eyed Peas star also reveals that “I wouldn’t have gone on The Voice, because I’m not the right kind of artist. You can’t judge me on my vocals, you judge me on my mind, and the ideas I come up with. But this show doesn’t highlight your ideas, it is about your ability to sing other people’s ideas.”
As one of the most innovative people in showbiz (he’s sent a song to Mars, and has his own line of technology products) Will thinks he knows why The Voice is yet to produce a mega popstar like rival show The X Factor, which has churned out successful acts over the past decade. “It’s down to this instant gratification culture we have now. We don’t have the attention or patience to see someone evolve as an artist, after the show is finished.” Fellow coach Ricky Wilson agrees that The Voice is more about long term pop success: “I’m still in touch with everyone from my team from last year, and they are all playing bigger gigs now. Beth McCarthy didn’t even get to the final, but she’s above established artists on festival bills this summer. She’s doing it the oldfashioned way, but with a little bit of a turbo boost from being on The Voice. I’m proud of her!”
Living legend Sir Tom Jones has witnessed his contestants developing in the same way. “I took [2014 finalist] Sally Barker out on tour with me last summer: this woman had retired; she thought her career was over, and this show brought her back to life,” he says. “The people who enter The X-Factor are all about commercial success; the people that come on The Voice don’t really care about that. Because they want to side-swerve that whole scenario of ‘you’re the next big thing, until the next big thing’,” says Ricky. “We’re not just trying to find a flashin-the-pan star to fill the void between the series.” Sir Tom adds a final note, his signature gravelly tones silencing the room. “Ultimately, the feedback we get from contestants is that they want to be judged on their voices, not the way they look or dance. Real singers want to be heard.”
Watch The Voice UK, Saturdays at 7pm on BBC1