Do you remember the name Anthony Sumbati? Doesn’t ring a bell? It’s been 10 years, so wouldn’t surprise me. Sumbati was a contestant on the inaugural season of Australian Idol back in 2003. Sumbati was disqualified from the series for making a radio appearance, which all entrants were forbidden to do. They were on total media blackout. Contestants weren’t allowed to have a media presence outside the show. It’s unfair for other contestants, and it doesn’t enable the program to cash in on the success of the entrant.
Fair call, really, and one that talent shows have followed through with for the last ten years. All that has changed with The Voice. Contestants are highly active via their Twitter accounts, and episodes will often have pop ups advertising that so and so will be appearing on Sunrise the next morning. Cross promotion and media saturation is one thing that certainly enables the raging success of the show, but playing favourites is another. What makes one contestant so special that they get a coveted morning program appearance over another?
On June 3, Channel Nine took it one step further and failed to air two of the ‘Battle Rounds’, leaving the two advancing contestant’s wins only accessible via the Internet. Now, of course, if their flawed vocal performances were the reason that kept it from airing in the first place, they probably have no chance of winning anyway, but this form of omission has a mighty effect on the ability for an audience member to ‘fall in love’ with a contestant. And ultimately vote for them.
Viewers vote for those who they feel connected to, and they can’t connect to them if they aren’t being shown. Nine are, effectively, giving great advantage to some contestants over others when it comes to the public vote round. How does the differing levels of the representation of a contestant in a reality or competition series affect their chance of winning? There’s a great research opportunity and PhD thesis in there somewhere! Can the producers of a series ultimately push for a certain contestant to win? Is it ever a fair fight? The Voice – musical television that offers plenty of material for your next discussion on the influence of institutional practices in representation.