“Kevin Ian Simm (born 5 September 1980, Chorley, Lancashire, England) is an English pop super star, more so now that he’s the winner of the The Voice UK in 2016.”
At the time of writing, this is the actual opening of Kevin Simm’s Wikipedia page (citation clearly needed). The page is littered with gems like this one (including this highlight from 2007: “Simm, focusing on his solo career, created his own Myspace music profile”) that attempt to present Simm as a significant, relevant musician, despite having very little to back that statement up.
Of course, Simm’s success on this year’s The Voice mostly depended on the opposite narrative: once made successful by Simon Cowell’s Noughties talent show Popstars, forming the top charting band Liberty X with fellow runners-up, he had failed to form a long-lasting music career, instead performing “Just A Little” covers in the pubs and clubs of Lancashire (latex not required). He presented himself as down-to-earth, a grafter, and a family man. He’s Just An Average Guy, with a normal life, a good singing voice, and not a lot of luck.
We all know this is a backstory that talent show audiences adore. We vote for it time and time again. Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward, Joe McElderry, Matt Cardle, James Arthur and Ben Haenow all fitted the mold: male mediocrity with kind brown eyes. They’ve also all been unsuccessful in reaching the dizzying heights of stardom such shows guarantee their winners. In fact, bizarre pronouncements like the one on Simm’s Wikipedia page are able to exist because, from Pop Idol to X Factor, these talent shows thrive under curious contradictions. They promise their contestants unimaginable fame (how many times over the years have we heard Louis Walsh’s dulcet tones proclaim, “He’s going to be a big st– he’s already a big star!!”), but usually deliver under six months of “one level up from obscurity”.
The Voice, with its notable lack of any cynicism, has been particularly fertile ground for the even more specific figure of Humbled Noughties Musician. A close relative of Just An Average Guy (usually using this persona to secure low-level recognition in the first place), the Humbled Noughties Musician is desperate for television’s most elusive prize: a Second Chance. Sean Conlon from 5ive, Danny Foster from Hear’Say, Kavana, Pop Idol contestant Kirsty Crawford, Bizarre Inc’s Angie Brown and Cleopatra’s Cleo Higgins have all auditioned, as well as musical actress Kerry Ellis, 5 Star’s Denise Pearson, Brother Beyond’s Nathan Moore and Bucks Fizz’s Jay Aston.
Of course, the big contradiction here is that while we value relatability, humbleness, good humour, and vague attractiveness in our reality TV stars, we want more from a pop star. True pop stars are Kanye West and Taylor Swift and Beyoncé: more than mere mortals, hardworking to a fault, irritatingly creative, and potentially absolutely nightmarish to socialise with. We crave controversy and unachievable ridiculousness from our greatest celebrities, but punish the arrogance of talent show contestants who share the same traits. Whether a contextual issue or a demographic one (the average talent show viewer, for example, is older than the biggest purchasers of pop music), it makes the transition from Saturday night TV to Sunday night charts tricky.
The pop stars who succeed in these formats are the ones who are happy to shed the cloak of normality as soon as the show is over: the X Factor incarnations of Little Mix and One Direction (who were perhaps aided by their youth and therefore their potential for Look Who Are All Grown Up! headlines) seem like shadows of their current selves.
I’m more than happy to be proved wrong, but I can’t help but feel that Kevin Simm’s efforts are doomed from the start. He seems like a truly nice person, but “the dad-of-two sang ‘Mr Brightside’ with Ricky Wilson” is not a sentence that screams the latest pop sensation.