Reality TV is savage.
You can’t sing, dance, renovate bathrooms, cook stuffed zucchini flowers, or fall in love competitively without getting slammed by “feedback” so ferocious it’s brought fully grown adults completely undone.
So when a 9-year-old girl like Molly performs on The Voice Kids in front of millions of Australians, you worry about her vulnerability to strangers’ cruelty. A lot. You worry a lot.
You enjoy her performance because she’s cute as a button with the voice of a sassy cherub. But still, you worry. Trolls and bullies eviscerate contestants online all the time and there’s no real reason they wouldn’t target kids under the age of 10. People can be truly awful to anyone who picks up a microphone.
Before last night’s episode of The Voice Kids, you might have been ready to scream “exploitation!” at stage parents and TV producers. Who would willingly put their child through that? Aren’t the producers being recklessly mercenary here, at the risk of crushing a child’s tender self esteem? Is there a reason we haven’t seen anyone get rejected yet, or are judges under strict instructions to be kind?
But here’s the surprise twist. Producers at Channel Nine and Shine Australia seem to be trying to protect these kids, for real. Contestants — all of whom are between 9 and 15 — have been banned from social media, so they can’t access any comments about them online. No Twitter, no public FB, no trawling forums for negative comments.
There’s also extra psychological support available to each of the kids, and the whole show was cast and shot in consultation with experts in child psychology. It’s obviously been a carefully staged operation, with the kids’ mental health actively protected. Song choices were checked with every kid’s parents, and they were all advised against letting their kids sing any explicit or suggestive lyrics. Channel 9 openly asked people to be gentle with these kids – and judging by the general pleasantness of the hashtag #TheVoiceKidsAu, it’s worked.
If you watched last night, your moral objections to the show probably dissolved the second Scottish 13-year-old Robbie from Perth came on screen. Then there was Jasmine, who just wanted to make people happy with her singing and Abigail the pocket-sized hip-hop prodigy. It was increasingly hard to feel outraged about the existence of the show (though obviously some people managed it).
So if TV producers are behaving themselves, surely we’d get some stage parents to blame for exploiting their kids? Right? We get that, don’t we?
Nup. Not a stage parent in sight. Every single contestant so far has come from a loving, supportive, astonishingly stable family. Which says to me that casting agents deliberately chose kids who came with an emotional back-up team for the publicity gauntlet reality TV inevitably becomes.
If you’re anything like us, you need somewhere to talk about The Voice Kids.
So let’s do it. Let’s debrief right here, right now.
Would you let your child compete on a show like this? Do you think the coaches and viewers are kind enough to the kids competing?