Is the Vietnamese Voice cracking?

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Popular reality music show raises debate over the choice of English songs by most contestants

1, 2, 3, 4, and 5: Tieu Chau Nhu Quynh, Thai Trinh, Dong Lan, Bui Anh Tuan and Dinh Huong are brilliant singers who have progressed to the next round of TV reality show The Voice Vietnam. Except for Tuan, all sang English songs. Huong, 24, from the central Quang Tri Province, who got all four judges' votes after she sang "˜Warwick Avenue,' said she had entered the contest to "˜find answers to her musical identity' and Vietnamese music does not enable her to do that.

Some people fainted while waiting outside Nguyen Du Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on August 1.

They were holding tickets but could not manage to jostle into the first "battle round" of The Voice Vietnam, adapted from the successful American reality talent show.

People began queuing up hours before the filming began, and when the stadium was filled with thousands of people including the contestants' families, many were still waiting outside in the rain, desperate for the guards to let them in.

Organizers said this had never happened in Vietnam.

Many people had emailed the organizers for tickets to the filming, or bought them in the black market, instead of waiting until the performances start airing on August 19.

The Vietnamese version of The Voice, organized by Vietnam Television, Samsung Electronics and the Ho Chi Minh City-based media company Cat Tien Sa, has won a lot of hearts. The show premiered in the US in April 2011, and also was a big hit in the UK and Australia this year.

The most unique feature of the show, blind auditions, has proved to be a hit, throwing up several surprises in June.

Unlike other talent reality shows, the judges sit with their back to the contestants, listening only to their voices. If a coach likes what they hear, a button-press allows their chair to spin around and face the performer. If more than one judge pushes the button, they woo the contestant for the chance to train them to compete in further rounds. The contestant makes his or her choice on the spot.

During the Blind Auditions in Vietnam, judges were surprised to turn around and find that the female voice belonged to a man, or a beautiful, vibrant voice came from a disabled person. The judges for the first edition of The Voice Vietnam are famous singers Ho Ngoc Ha, Thu Minh, Dam Vinh Hung and Tran Lap.


After a three-week break, The Voice Vietnam will return with the first of the three Battle Rounds episodes, 70-minutes long, aired on August 19.

The episodes will feature the direct elimination of seven contestants from each fourteen-member team. Each of four coaches will hold on to seven remaining contestants to prepare for the next round, Live Shows. Previously, the rules said each coach can keep only six for the Live Shows round.

A CATS Company representative said the change followed a similar alteration made to the original US format in its second season.

The Live Shows will be aired from September 23 to December 16 with nine performances. This is the final phase of the contest. The contestants will compete against each other during the broadcast on Vietnam Television's VTV3 channel and phone lines will be open for the public to vote.

The 28 finalists chosen from the Battle Rounds will compete against each other and even their teammates until the top four are chosen.

One person will be named "The Voice" on December 16. The winner will take home VND500 million (US$24,000) and a record contract with Universal Music.

In the initial "battle" rounds, the judges themselves will decide which team members they have to let go, but in the final round to be aired live on September 16, the audience will vote in the winner. In the later rounds of the contest, more famous singers will be assigned, two for each team, to mentor the contestants.

The contest has already run into controversy, but one that is unlikely to do it much harm, and in fact could generate free publicity.

Although it is called The Voice Vietnam and its Vietnamese name Giong hat Viet means "Vietnamese voice," most contestants in the Blind Auditions sang English songs, including Adam Lambert's "Whataya want from me," and Duffy's "Mercy" and "Warwick Avenue."

Only seven of the 56 initially chosen contestants sang Vietnamese songs. Needless to say, the public has taken sides on the issue, with some saying it should have been a truly Vietnamese version and others saying singing English songs will help the local music industry integrate better into the global entertainment market.

A press release from the organizers said the first season of The Voice Vietnam will wrap up in December this year, with the winner taking home VND500 million (US$24,000) and a record contract with Universal Music, one of the biggest record labels in the world, and the three runners-up receiving VND50 million. The organizers said that the choice of songs could have been influenced by the fact that an international label is involved.

But Dinh Huong, a 24-year-old contestant from the central region's Quang Tri Province, who was wanted by all four judges after she sang "Warwick Avenue," said there was more to it. She said she had joined the contest to find answers to her musical identity and Vietnamese music does not enable her to do that.

"I love and want to follow soul, blues, R&B which are typical of African-American culture. Sadly, there're few Vietnamese songs that can carry the spirit of those genres," Huong told Tuoi Tre newspaper.

Ho Ngoc Ha, one of the two female judges, said earlier on television that she supported the contestants if they wanted to sing English songs.

"We want to choose beyond the Vietnamese voice, we want voices that can reach the global level," she said.

Judging by some Western listeners' comments, this could take a long time to happen.

Giang Son, a Vietnamese songwriter, told Tuoi Tre that her American husband, who teaches finance, had made a rather rude comment about the English skills of a contestant who won a lot of praise, saying "I did not understand it one bit." He gave up watching after several auditions, she said.

US-based Ha Tran, one of the leading Vietnamese female vocalists, was not impressed by the choices made by contestants. "That's funny. Is singing Vietnamese songs boring, or is our concern about international integration suddenly rising?"

After living in the US for eight years, she said she has never dared sing foreign songs at serious events, and felt ashamed when listening to records of herself singing English songs that she made only for herself when she was young.

Some members in the audience agreed, saying that the winners would never be able to build a big career based on songs in a foreign language.

Vietnamese singing English songs would fail to highlight the differences between the foreign genres such as rock, pop, jazz, or blues, they said.

Duc Tri, a famous contemporary pop songwriter, said the organizers and judges should have the contestants create a balance in their song choices. Tri said he was not against English songs, but "too much integration would just melt us."

On online forums, the majority opinion seems to be that the contestants be allowed to make their own choices.

"Just let young people sing as many foreign songs as they like. One day they will get bored and go back to their mother tongue," one of them said.

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