Outcry over singing contest The Voice's Mandarin requirement

The inaugural Singapore/Malaysia edition of reality singing show The Voice has drawn flak online.
The inaugural Singapore/Malaysia edition of reality singing show The Voice has drawn flak online.PHOTO: THE VOICE/FACEBOOK

The inaugural Singapore/Malaysia edition of reality singing show The Voice has drawn flak online with its Mandarin-speaking requirement.

In response, a spokesman for mm2 Entertainment, which is co-producing the show with StarHub and Astro, tells The Straits Times that it "decided to acquire the format licence in Mandarin based on the assessment that it is most commercially viable".

The company had announced in October last year that it had acquired the rights to produce the Singapore/Malaysia version of The Voice in Mandarin.

Last Friday, the company started online auditions for the show.

Its official marketing material, including its website and Facebook page, state that while the contest is open to singers of all nationalities and races, participants have to be "fluent in Mandarin and are able to perform Mandarin songs".

The show will be aired on StarHub's Hub E City in Singapore and Astro AEC in Malaysia, both of which air programmes mostly in Mandarin.

The mm2 spokesman adds that the contestants would have to converse with the judges, who have not been revealed, mainly in Mandarin.

"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."

Social media has been abuzz with commenters who argue that the requirements leave out many aspiring singers who are not fluent in Mandarin.

Mr Graham Perkins, chairman of non-profit music organisation The Music Society, Singapore, finds the language requirements prohibitive.

"A great voice can sing in any language and should still be recognised," he says. "It seems the production company has implemented a restrictive requirement mainly for commercial, and possibly legal, reasons, in that songs cleared for use will be in Mandarin."

The Voice has been held in various languages in different versions around the world since its inception in 2010.

The original version, The Voice Of Holland, is in Dutch.

The popular American version of the show, now into its 12th season, features a star-studded line-up of judges/mentors including pop stars such as Adam Levine and Alicia Keys, while the British version has counterparts such as will.i.am and Jennifer Hudson.

Singapore Idol, the local version of another popular singing franchise, American Idol, was broadcast in English here.

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 reality show which was formerly China's edition of The Voice.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Outcry over singing contest's Mandarin requirement'. Subscribe