TV’s most happening music contest The Voice is back this month for its 22nd season. For me, the catchy ditty that ushers each episode says it all: “This Is The Voice!”
The best part is I now get to watch it on the Star Channel via my Disney+ subscription. Before, I had to make do with snippets from Youtube. Yes (fist pumping air), I can finally geek out on my all-time favourite singing showcase!
This is no idle pastime for me. And it’s not even about watching the countless number of auditions this show has pushed out over the last 21 seasons.
No. I’m not just talking about this show. I’m talking about the place of music in my life!
My childhood music box
So here’s a little-known fact about me and my childhood.
When I was still a kid of eight or nine, I already had a fixed ritual that was rather unusual.
Every Saturday when my peers were out and about, I would be home and seated beneath a rather large music box between two and six pm. Called the Rediffusion, the box was like a radio set but cabled for sound rather than antennaed for airwaves.
What am I doing there you ask? Good question!
I’m there to listen to my favourite program – The American Top 40 (or AT40) with Casey Kasem.
Everything comes back to you
Everything I know today about global pop culture began with that show.
Listening to Casey count down the top songs in America from 40 all the way to number one every Saturday was such a thrill. Along the way, he would share many snippets of trivia about American music, and I just lapped it all up. Like a hungry toddler slurping up his favorite cereal as fast as I possibly could.
When I was around ten years old, I even kept a notebook where, each week, I jotted down the titles and singers of all those 40 songs, counting down alongside Casey from number 40 all the way to number 1!
That went on til I was 12 or 13.
To this day, I think my ability to read and spell was honed then, thanks to Casey! As well as my love for the English language and how it connects me to a world beyond my imagination.
My musical journey
But even better was how my love for music was formed in those impressionable years. And that love has soared and soared since.
I remembered ballading with Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. Booge-ing with the Bee Gees, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Donna Summer. Belting my heart out with Journey and Hall & Oates. Hoedown-ing with Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Milsap. And crying buckets with Charlene and Olivia Newton-John (I’m still crying buckets over her recent demise).
Along the way, I grew in my knowledge of the music world and discovered the power of storytelling through lyrics that dripped like honey into my ears. Songs depicting sorrow and regret; joy and elation; revenge and unrequited love.
I gravitated to country and pop music with singers who told lovely tales like Anne Murray, Dan Fogelberg, and Rupert Holmes. I swayed to the lovely pipes of Barbra Streisand and Sheena Easton as their voices seemed to hold eons of stories stitched intimately into every octave.
From the late eighties into the nineties, others took center stage. Mostly pop music, though I had by then also acquired a taste for soul/R&B. The likes of Whitney and Mariah aside, I also took note of others like Anita Baker and James Ingram. I put on my dance shoes again for Expose, Janet Jackson, En Vogue and Paula Abdul. Then melted to the uptown electro jazz/pop musicality of Swing Out Sister and Everything But The Girl. I also recall rocking my body hard at varsity dance parties to Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and Guns N’ Roses.
And the list goes on.
Music through the ages
As music morphs over decades, most of us would struggle to keep up with the newest tunes on airwaves and streaming platforms like Apple Music or Spotify.
Truth be told, tastes tend to be locked in after some time. Few of us past 40 would even listen to the latest tunes, preferring to stick to our “lane”. We probably think what passes for music today are either too loud, too modern or too unfathomable.
That’s where shows like The Voice come in for me.
On it, I hear different English songs spanning decades, genres and delivery styles from contestants 14 to 40 years of age. And I relish the opportunity to hear and discover gems such as songs of today’s popular singers like Billie Eilish, Brett Young, Kacey Musgrave, and Niall Horan.
Like I used to with Casey and AT40, I would learn their names and memorise their lyrics. But unlike before, now I had the power of the Internet under my fingertips to google the heck out of all the playlists and paraphernalia of these pop stars.
But it’s not just that
Best part of The Voice for me is to watch old hits get fresh interpretations.
Like Joanna Serenko’s jazzy rendition of All My Loving by The Beatles in Season 18. Or slightly more recent fares like Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time given a watered-down sentimental treatment in this new season by Ava Lynn Thuresson. (Incidentally, both Joanna and Ava were 18 when they took to the stage!)
While the gimmicky chair-turning by the coaches who liked what they hear in the initial blind auditions certainly make for fun TV entertainment, I’m more interested to listen and learn what songs get people on their feet. What tunes embolden these contestants enough that they would bravely step before millions of viewers and intimidating big names in the music industry.
And bare their hearts and souls right out there for the world to witness. Even as their knees surely threaten to buckle them in!
Music that moves
Decades of music have tuned my ears into listening for what I call ‘feel’, or how the song ‘moves’ me.
Technical prowess by lung-busting powerhouse vocals can certainly garner attention. But pelting out the runs and riffs of every note perfectly in time and tune can end up being “yell-y” as new The Voice coach Camila Cabello calls it.
For me, it’s more the tone, the sense of rhythm and even playfulness of the singers that takes my breath away. Performances that look and sound effortless, soulful, and carefree, yet with a touch of vulnerability checks all the boxes for me. Not forgetting a strong sense of “I know who I (the singer) am.”
So in the end it really doesn’t matter which genre, era, or demographic is represented on stage.
The only thing that matters is does the song, the singer and the singing transcend and move me?
If it does, then all I wanna say is thanks, and join in the chorus of…