‘We Want To Watch Real People’: Why Aussies Are Turning To Talent Shows In Droves

Many of us have turned to the comforts of reality television during COVID, and from Big Brother to The Bachelor and The Block, it's evident that the industry is pumping out more shows to keep our eyeballs on the screen.
But if recent ratings are anything to go by, our preferences have shifted towards more light-hearted and uplifting talent shows during the pandemic, leaving once-popular dating shows to the wayside.
After taking the format from Channel 9, Channel 7's version of The Voice has attracted over one million metro viewers every episode, and on Sunday night led the charge with 1.61 million national viewers, followed by The Block pulling in 1.4 million.
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Meanwhile, Jimmy Nicholson's season of The Bachelor launched with the lowest ratings in the show's eight-year history in Australia. But to some experts, these numbers are no surprise.
According to Perth-based psychologist Dr Marny Lishman, more Aussies are tuning into content with "real" people during these uncertain times, and the "fairytale" narrative of romance shows is unrelatable in 2021.
"Right now there are a lot of unknowns and people are not feeling in control," Lishman told Refinery29 Australia, explaining there's been a "shift" in things people are doing to "make themselves feel better" and watching more TV is one of them.
"What I've noticed is a lot of people are wanting more realness. Some of the shows like The Bachelor, it is very fairytale-like and kind of a beautiful fake," she said.
"It's too fake and I think what people are wanting at the moment because they're struggling themselves, is an element of realness."
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Singing group G-Nation on The Voice
While many viewers may indeed struggle to see themselves going on a lavish date in a helicopter with an eligible bachelor, they might get more joy in witnessing the journeys of strangers who rise through the ranks through talent and ambition.
The Voice is a perfect example of this where often amateur music hopefuls sing their way to stardom through their sensational vocal abilities in a blind audition, and a heartwarming personal backstory helps producers showcase their character throughout the series.
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"I would say that the reality shows where there is that hero's journey – you known when you see the struggle or you see the underdog or you see the hard work or you get the tears that are just authentic – I think that is quite reflective of what people are looking for," said Lishman,
"They're like, 'I feel crap, I don't want to see someone's picture-perfect life. That's too good to be true.' We're feeling real stuff at the moment so we want to watch real people."

 Some of the shows like The Bachelor... It's too fake and I think what people are wanting at the moment because they're struggling themselves, is an element of realness.


Dr Marny Lishman, psychologist
Former Channel 10 executive producer Rob McKnight said everyone was initially surprised by The Voice's incredible ratings, "and not even Channel Seven could have predicted how well it would do."
But the founder of television website TV Blackbox also explained the network's timing and a revamp of its judging lineup has made a world of difference in pulling in audiences craving wholesome, nostalgic viewing.
"They [Channel 7] picked it up, they chopped it up and managed to make it compelling again," McKnight told Refinery29 Australia. "My family is addicted to it, I'm addicted to it," he laughed.
McKnight acknowledged the program "got a good launch out of the Olympics" which also aired on the same channel, but insisted "it's one thing to get the audience there for episode one, but to hold onto them, you've got to put that down to the judges."
This year Rita Ora and Jessica Mauboy joined the panel alongside Guy Sebastian and Keith Urban who have appeared on The Voice in the past.
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Aligning with some of Lishman's comments, McKnight said viewers are yearning for connections, and the combination of "lovable" Urban, "nice and genuine" Sebastian and Ora's "star power" with Mauboy's relatability delivers on that brief to the tee.
"You see the truthfulness of Jess Mauboy, and here's what it is about at the moment – it's about connectivity. Viewers are connecting with Jess in a whole new way," he said.
"The hardest thing at the moment is connecting with an audience that has a tonne of content at their fingertips, whether it be on free-to-air television, YouTube, streaming services or catch-up services, finding those viewers, or getting those viewers to stick with you is the hardest thing for any programmer in any country, let alone Australia."
Channel 10 is hoping to replicate ratings success from previous years when its third season of The Masked Singer premieres next week. For those unfamiliar with the show, it's a singing contest with a celebrity head-style twist, as the judges must correctly guess the famous person singing under outlandishly colourful masks.
Fans are already playing along from home before the season has even premiered, trying to crack the clues that the network has dropped in promos and on social media.
Lishman recalled watching The Masked Singer for the first time and thinking it's a "great distraction" with "silliness and escapism" that's again needed if we're "going through times of stress and anxiety."
"Distraction is really good because it's hard to be pulled into a show, and being worried at the same time," she said. "I think those shows where you have to think a little bit, you're challenged, it's uplifting, it's funny and simple, a lot of people are going to be wanting that as well."
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McKnight on the other hand is sceptical if season 3 will take off, but hopes it does for Channel 10's sake given the dismal performance of The Bachelor.
"This series is going to be make or break for it," he claimed. "If this one does really well, then Ten's laughing and they'll be fine. If it doesn't, it's going to be another chink in the armour for Ten, which at the moment their programming lineup can't afford to take."
As The Voice nears its Sunday finale, and The Masked Singer gears up for its premiere on Monday, let's have the popcorn stock at the ready for what's become our staple feel-good viewing.

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