Call to diversify The Voice

Celebrity judges of the Singapore/Malaysia edition of The Voice (from left) Sky Wu, Gary Chaw, Della Ding Dang and Hanjin Tan in the judges' chairs.
Celebrity judges of the Singapore/Malaysia edition of The Voice (from left) Sky Wu, Gary Chaw, Della Ding Dang and Hanjin Tan in the judges' chairs.PHOTO: MARCUS TAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Judges of the reality singing show support the use of languages apart from Mandarin for the Singapore/Malaysia edition

The celebrity judges of the inaugural Singapore/Malaysia edition of reality singing show The Voice agree that, in future, the show should consider lifting its Mandarin-speaking requirement.

Earlier this year, there was public outcry over the fact that the show requires participants to be "fluent in Mandarin and are able to perform Mandarin songs", as it would disqualify many aspiring singers in the two countries who cannot speak or sing in the language.

At the show's first press event held at Hotel Jen in Johor Baru on Tuesday evening, Malaysian singer Gary Chaw, one of the four mentor-judges on the show, told The Straits Times the show should "diversify".

The 37-year-old said in a mix of English and Mandarin: "This is just the first season, but going forward, perhaps the producers could work out something with the franchise rights holder where the show could work in many languages.

"After all, Singapore and Malaysia are multiracial countries and we should diversify."

The producer of the show, mm2 Entertainment, had told The Straits Times in May it had acquired the format licence to produce the Singapore/Malaysia version of The Voice in Mandarin "based on the assessment that it is most commercially viable".

Singaporean singer-songwriter Hanjin Tan, 41, also a judge on the show, said: "I'm happy that The Voice has come to Singapore and Malaysia and I believe this is just the first step of many steps to come. If the licence dictates certain things, then perhaps, that's how the first step is meant to go.

"Eventually, if we can have translators on stage and the licence allows that, we'll get to that step."

Other than Chaw and Tan, the other two judges are China powerhouse singer Della Ding Dang, 34, and veteran Taiwanese crooner Sky Wu, 50, both of whom are not known to be fluent in English.

Mm2 had also said earlier that the contestants would have to converse with the judges mainly in Mandarin.

A spokesman said: "The ability of the contestants to communicate effectively in Mandarin becomes a necessity for the execution of the production as contestants are required to engage the judges extensively, including during the coaching sessions, which are integral to the show format."

The show started filming the franchise's iconic blind auditions round at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Baru yesterday, where contestants are judged purely on their singing.

At this stage, contestants perform with the judges facing away from them. If a judge likes what he hears, he can then press a button to signal that he is interested in working with that contestant. The rotating chairs that the judges are seated in then spin around to face the contestant for the first time.

Following the blind auditions, contestants are mentored by the judges to become better singers, culminating in several singing battles among the contestants.

The Voice has been held in different languages around the world since the original, The Voice Of Holland, debuted in Dutch in 2010. The popular American version of the show, now into its 12th season, features a star-studded line-up of mentors such as singers Adam Levine and Alicia Keys.

In recent years, several Singapore singers have had success with regional Mandarin singing shows, most notably Nathan Hartono. The 25-year-old came in second in Sing! China last year, a hit reality show which was formerly China's edition of The Voice.

One of the draws of the American version of the show is the camaraderie among the judges.

Ask the Singapore/Malaysia judges about their mentorship styles and Wu immediately piped up: "Sunshine, warmth and love - that is how I will be with the contestants."

Chaw said he hoped that beyond a mentor and mentee relationship, his experience with the contestants would be "truly collaborative".

"As long as the contestants sing with a lot of feeling and touch me with their voice, I would want to work with them and we'll learn from one another.

"At the blind auditions, they don't have to sing any of the judges' songs to get our attention. But if they do, they better not sing it better than we do because we need to have some face too," he said with a laugh.

•The Voice premieres on Hub E City (StarHub TV Channels 111 and 825) on Sept 17 at 8pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2017, with the headline 'Call to diversify The Voice'. Print Edition | Subscribe