Fading stars: Could The Voice learn from TV talent shows of the past?

Contestant Maxine Barry is Shirley Bassey in Stars in Their Eyes
Contestant Maxine Barry is Shirley Bassey in Stars in Their Eyes
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THERE’S something of a stooshie going on between rival TV talent shows The Voice and The X Factor.

Simon Cowell’s omniscient and hugely successful TV talent vehicle has been given a sly shoeing by several members of the judging panel that make up The Voice, the earnest pretender to The X Factor’s gaudy throne. Various members of the panel - comprised of Jessie J, Tom Jones, Will.i.am and The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue - have been keen to position themselves as rivals to the Cowell cavalcade, criticising the show for retaining contestants for “comedy value”, while giving conspicuous emphasis to the notion that The Voice judges contestants solely on their singing ability.

All very noble, but how will such a highbrow premise fare in a medium that has traditionally prized melodrama, high-camp and other light entertainment tropes? As The Scotsman looks back at some of the most successful and well-loved TV talent shows of yore, it seems that The Voice may benefit from finding some room for frivolity amid all that substance.

Opportunity Knocks

The original television series of Opportunity Knocks, hosted by Hughie Green, prefaced many of the ingredients that make up today’s standard talent show formats. Championing the then-novel notion of a ‘public vote’, Opportunity Knocks was a hugely popular format that paired some of Britain’s most storied light entertainment figures (Su Pollard, Paul Daniels, Les Dawson) with some, er, more quixotic acts (singing dogs, the Muscle Man). Subsequent revivals of the series were hosted by Bob Monkhouse and Opportunity Knocks alumni Les Dawson.

New Faces

Favouring the panel judge format (complete with pompous scorecards), New Faces regarded itself as a more ‘serious’ rival to Opportunity Knocks, where proto-Cowell comments from panel members, music composer Tony Hatch in particular, were not uncommon. Its theme tune. Carl Wayne’s You’re A Star, was a minor hit upon its release, but how might the judges have scored it. eh?

Stars in Their Eyes

“Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be...” a poorly-dressed karaoke version of Elvis Pressley, would be the cynic’s response to the show’s most famous catchphrase, uttered by contestants before their transformation from Average Joe/Joanne to soul divas, pin-up idols and rock ‘n’ roll legends. Matthew Kelly presented the majority of the series’ run through the nineties and early noughties.


The beginning of the end of ‘real music’? If you spend enough time listening to BBC Radio 2 then you’d probably agree, but, much like the first series of Big Brother, it presented itself in rather less exploitative, even altruistic, terms. Popstars, with a judging panel of Nigel Lythgoe, Nicki Chapman and Paul Adam, gave the world the wide-eyed, relentlessly upbeat pop of Hear’Say, and in a subsequent series called Popstar: The Rivals, Girls Aloud was born.