Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Voice: my kind of reality TV

I recently re-read a rant of mine about last year's X Factor; specifically, about the number of shameless soundalikes given airtime. Having watched new reality show concept The Voice over the past three weeks, it seems like the BBC read it too, thought, 'that IS uncool' and commissioned a show where having your own, unique voice is the very minimum required.

I love The Voice. I love it for Jessie J singing along and visibly willing people to be amazing, I love it for the ultra-camp WHOOSH as the chairs spin around, I love it for's unbelievable geeky, robotic weirdness and I love it for the almost complete absence of sob stories. I even love Danny ScriptQuiff's unbearable neediness.

While not all of the singers that have got through have my stamp of approval, how boring would life be if there was nothing to shout at the TV about? The potentially spine-tingling moment when an auditionee opens their mouth and the suspense of the chair-turning have me absolutely hooked.

Some people have moaned about Jessie J's loudness (love her), patterned shirt (love it) or interrupting (don't care, still love her), but I think the judges are a nice mix. You've got Tom Jones to soak up all of the naff cruise-shippy singers (who will hopefully go this week in the SING-OFF round!), Jessie to inspire tears and worship from every misfit auditioning, Will to deliver immense and unexpected Michael Jackson impressions, and Danny to silently scream 'LOVE ME!' with his eyes every time someone's picking their mentor.

I can't bloomin' wait for the sing-offs this weekend - way to tap into the Glee audience, BBC - and see how my favourites progress. Here they are, by the way...

J Marie Cooper
The redhead who absolutely stormed her audition with Mamma Knows Best, arguably Jessie J's hardest song to sing. I liked her style, I liked her attitude and her voice was just different enough from JJ's (a touch of jazzy vibrato for starters). Rumours abound that she's an evil diva, but I don't care. I like my divas evil, demanding and a bit mental.

Ben Kelly
Team: Jessie J
Ben had me at 'She packed her bags last night, pre-flight'. Love Rocket Man as I do, though, it was the risk-taking and piano skills that really sold this one for me. He's quirkier and less marketable than the above, but I'm feeling him from his bow tie to his red skinnies.

Vince Kidd
Team: Jessie J
Vince was a tough-looking platinum blonde with the piercings and the hood. But he showed his talent when he whipped out a funky, grinding cover of Madonna's bubblegum Like a Virgin, and his soft side when he was reduced to wibbly tears by the judges' praise. Can't wait to see what he'll do next.

David Faulkner
Team: Jessie J
The only one smacking of 'underdog' that I liked, David was the Welsh builder who rocked Superstition. If he can apply his crazy vocals to something more contemporary, I'll like him even more. I also liked that other guy with the hat, but since I can't remember his name (and can remember his fiancee was called Twinnielee), he's out.

Becky Hill
Team: Jessie J
I had to pick another girl, had to. I liked this one (although I wasn't enamoured with Jessie J turning her chair so early - seemingly because she'd picked her favourite song). I really wanted an amazing black mama with a huge voice, but didn't get one, or a gorgeous country and western type - and they rejected Harriet Whitehead, who I thought was quite good. So I pick Becky, whose tone I liked and stood out for me among a few cruisey or shouty types.

The judges seemed to put through more females I didn't like than ones I did, which is odd. Loving the blokes though. And let's face it, Jessie's definitely got the best crop of artists. Do comment with who you've loved or hated, or if you totally disagree with me about the show.

Images: BBC

*Apologies for the amount of capitals, reality TV singing shows really bring that out in me.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Work experience moans: are they ever justified?

The Devil Wears Prada: the most famous magazine kiss'n'tell

This afternoon I was recommended (and have been giggling at) this very amusing postmortem of a disappointing work experience placement at a women's weekly on The Vagenda. Everyone who's ever had a media work placement will recognise this - the ennui, the tears, the photocopying.
But amusing accounts aside, isn't it a bit much to bitch retrospectively about your work experience? I've had many a placement, ranging from 'tapping nails on desk waiting for another filing task' to 'sent to a film screening on my first night' on the workie Richter scale. I've moaned to my friends about bland days and snappy colleagues, for sure. But would I publish my dissatisfaction? I'm not sure.

I think people should debate about work experience - are we being taken for a ride? How much compensation, if any, is normal? Whose job is it to make sure you're busy/happy? But there is sort of an unwritten code in journalism that, publicly, we just get on with it, smile and say thank you, and stay quiet about any horrid employers. (I must point out at this juncture that I have blogged about internships, with some reference to my personal experience - but nothing like the roast this Vagenda writer has given her placement.)

The bottom line is, work experience is business. You go along, you put up with whatever they throw at you, grit your teeth when what they throw at you is returns forms and photocopying, and in exchange you get their publication's shiny, recognisable name on your CV. That name could be the thing that gets you your first paid job - especially if the person hiring has worked there and knows it's a nightmare. Sometimes just surviving is all the reference you need.

I think people that go along to work experience expecting a fun, tailor-made experience of the real job are kidding themselves. The publication is very much your choice - of course a women's weekly is going to be 'Kerry Katona's wardrobe' and real life stories. I wouldn't have booked myself in for two weeks at one. Many people go for smaller companies and niche publications, where the teams are inevitably more laid-back and give you lots to do - they could use the free help.

Also, gritting your teeth and getting on with it can be the making of you. My very worst weeks at magazines only made me tougher and appreciate the job I have now every day. Of course it's hard at the time, especially if that time is the Christmas holidays of your very tough journalism MA when you could have gone on a mini break. How so many privileged Tatler-esque girls survive as fashion interns, I'll never know - I found it tough at women's mags when my previous experience was Woolworths stock rooms and rowdy Cardiff pubs. If you feel you're destined for The Economist, don't sign up for three weeks at Heat. Of course you'll hate every One Direction-slathered minute. (If I learned anything on my magazine-specific postgrad course, it was that one person's OK! is another's New Statesman.)

Even though my fashion cupboard experience is limited to a few days here and there (I mainly worked with features teams, but volunteered the odd quiet day to do returns for the Red fashion team), it's actually quite a chilled experience. While everyone in the main office frantically chases PRs, conducts phone interviews and files copy way past deadline, the fashion cupboard is a little oasis of calm. You can have the radio on, chat to the other girls and make friends (an advantage the usually-solo features intern rarely enjoys) and bask in the coolly repetitive nature of the returns system.

I didn't have any loftier expectations when I did my postgraduate journalism placements than on my first rookie week as a 19 year old, and, true to form, the work I was given was less challenging than my previous 1-6 month internships. Of course it was. It's hard for a junior entrusted with a workie for a couple of weeks to delegate much responsibility.

I love a snarky post as much as the next girl, but I must defend magazine placements in this case. They provide a simple function; getting you your next placement or (hopefully) job. Take them for what they are or don't book yourself in at all. I know which option will get you further...

Image: Twentieth Century Fox

Monday, 5 March 2012

Dear Men

I would like to take a few minutes to address the men of the world. This is because I have noticed recently, and it does seem to be the portion of living males within myself and my friends' dating age range, that you seem to think it is OK to behave like utter vermin.

Maybe the world has lost a general sense of decency. Maybe your fathers were philandering anti-role models, giving you an odd compulsion to attract a mate but then quickly sabotage the situation with the gusto of a toddler making a sandcastle. Maybe your beloved pet recently died, sending you into a spiralling mentality preoccupied with darkness, futility and apathy. But I am calling time on the 'men are shits' parade - right now.

I didn't always feel like this towards you. I used to love meeting new men, finding out about them, all of their little quirks, playing the game. Now, it seems, one or two solid relationships into our twenties, we are not potential conversation and meal-sharing partners but faceless targets for astonishing levels of sleaze and timewasting.

I could blame your ex-girlfriends for no doubt 'messing you up', leading you to believe relationships were simple and long lasting and then running off with some tattooed lothario from the local indie bar. But at some point, a man in his twenties has to stand straight, look himself in the mirror and take responsibility for whatever kind of knobbery he is inflicting on unsuspecting womankind.

I never used to understand why women I knew stayed with the wrong man for years, or kept going back to someone who was never going to set their world alight (romantically rather than pyromaniacally speaking). Now I know. Because when they stepped, emotionally barefoot, into that big single world of dates and tentative texts, they were rewarded with nothing but bullshit.

I will never again admonish a friend for hotfooting it back to a shabby ex (or contemplating it) because it's seriously tough out there. There seems to be a trend for appearing completely normal and then knocking you for six with sudden, unspeakable wankery.

Boys - if it's genuine ignorance and you would like a legal document entitled Things That Are Not OK, please do just let me know. How we get from this stage of dating life freakshow to the one in the misty future where people are cohabiting and procreating all over the shop is beyond me.

I don't want this to be representative of the Miss Write experience since I hopped on a train to Cardiff, acquired all kinds of journalism savvy and snapped up a fabulous job and a cute little flat in the big city. It's been ace. But my goodness, do boys know how to erase all of that good feeling with blunder after blunder.

Yours sincerely,

Miss Write (and females everywhere)


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Some Like it Hot: still sizzling today

I've really enjoyed The Guardian's series of favourite film and album blogs, so I was thrilled to see my personal favourite, Some Like it Hot, pop up today as Becky Barnicoat's chosen flick. This film is cheeky, sexy, silly and hilarious. People who have just heard of it in passing or seen the iconic stills will think this film is popular because of Marilyn Monroe, the same way Breakfast at Tiffany's is cherished mainly for Audrey Hepburn's performance (despite having some iffy acting and some seriously un-PC content.) This is a bit of a myth. I do feel that Monroe is the only person who could have played the voluptuous, lovelorn Sugar Kane, smart enough to go on the run from heartache but dumb enough to fall for an imposter. But it is the script, the pace of the screwball plot and the combination of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon that makes this film a classic.

I have had serious love for SLIH since, as a GCSE media studies student, I was told to go away and learn about comedy genres: parody, rom-com and screwball included. Some Like it Hot was the first video - yep, I'm that old - I picked up, and I was instantly enchanted. Two regular Joes (well, one Joe and one Gerry) have to get out of Chicago after witnessing the St Valentine's Day massacre and going on the run from the mob. Their best option is donning some hosiery and lippy and joining all-female jazz band Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators to escape to Florida. The script is pow-pow-pow quickfire comedy, Tony Curtis is smooth saxophonist perfection (even in drag) and Lemmon's romance with Osgood Fielding III sublimely ridiculous. 

There is even some hot jazz along the way, with the sexy Runnin' Wild rehearsed on the train, Monroe's infamously slinky I Wanna Be Loved By You and her desperately sad rendition of I'm Through With Love at the climax of the film. Barnicoat mourns the lack of Technicolor in her blog post, but I think black and white makes this film what it is. Monroe's hourglass silhouette needs no zesty palette to improve it, Joe and Gerry's hastily-acquired drag looks just about convincing, and the whole picture just smokes with romance, mischief and jazz. 

If you're in need of a cosy weekend film as winter takes over, or just haven't seen this enduring comedy yet, I would highly recommend it. I might even dig out the old VHS myself...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Love Letters

I have posted before with other blogs I adore, but this one has something special about it.

Letters of Note is a collection of papers that have nothing in common except being in some way funny, touching or extraordinary. It frequently fills my eyes with tears of laughter or emotion (beware, desk readers), two recent examples being this hilarious response to a botched speeding ticket and this gorgeous reply to a small boy from a children's TV star.

I have always been fascinated with letters. By the time I engaged in any sort of correspondence beyond the birthday thank-you note, mobiles, texting, email and instant messaging were all at their height. But so many of my favourite novels were filled with scribbling heroines, sisters swapping revelations via telegrams delivered on horseback and true love exquisitely expressed with only pen and paper, that I wished I had some reason to write to someone. My diaries may have provided a physical written outlet, but there's nothing quite like receiving a letter just for you. 

Email and Facebook messaging are too instantly gratifying, too quickly back and forth, to replace the feeling of a long-awaited, carefully thought out reply on paper. During my first year at university I rather pathetically tried to resurrect the letter, demanding siblings and friends write to me in my pokey little halls room, but it never caught on. By the time the information had arrived, it was no longer relevant - everyone within reach of Facebook and text already knew. But as such I do have a few lovingly preserved missives from my sisters, mum and boyfriend at the time, so much lovelier to look at than a hastily-typed email.

Letters of Note is a treasure because it is a sort of online museum of correspondence. People bother to write and mail a letter for all sorts of reasons - gratitude, anger, sadness and usually, love. There is a letter from a man, dying of Leukemia, saying goodbye to his three-year-old son and one from a 26-year-old on death row thanking a reporter for believing in him (as well as lighter reading - see this fake memo from an irate Disney executive.)

What I love most about this blog is that what makes letters 'notable' is not simply their place in history or fame, but the sentiment within and the honesty or eloquence used to express it. It has inspired me to write more of my communications down on paper. Letters can be cherished, re-read and passed on to future generations and it seems a shame to lose that simply because I was born in the wrong century.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The 'Next' Factor

There is something equal parts compelling and abhorrent about this year's X Factor. The contestants range from the bland to the surreal, with a few actual stars snuck in there to confuse things. One thing that has had me ranting at the TV every weekend is the judges' collective blind eye to anyone who sounds exactly the same as an existing artist. In fact they bloody love it.

Freaky Friday?
Irish imp Janet has clearly stolen Ellie Goulding's voice in a shady Little Mermaid deal (seriously, have you seen the Goulding anywhere lately? Yeah, she's off gesturing wildly at her throat while Janet strokes the shell necklace that is the source of all her muted, squeaky blahness.)

Adele-lite Jade has a voice that could lull you to sleep. Literally, because all we've heard since it dropped in January is Adele's bloody album, and one more husky note could actually anesthetize me. I love Adele as much as the next easy listener, but this snivelling Scot has 2% of her voice and 0% of her personality.

Adele's voice would eat Jade's for breakfast
Then we have Johnny, who I actually do love, mainly because I love a classic gay with a set of brilliant one-liners - "Those lads are like Chippendales; I'm more of a chipolata." However, he has got through entirely on a bizarre, nasal Etta James impression that clearly won't work with anyone else's songs. I'd keep him in for his 'Oooh matron' humour alone though (and the fact he is a real life Derek Faye.)

Who dear, me dear, Etta James dear? Yes dear
Luckily many have been cut by this point, but we also waded through a guy trying his best to be Damien Rice but coming out a bit Damien Semolina, a Shania Twain lookalike wearing an actual cowboy hat and even two clear Glee obsessives channelling Finchel. Not one of these people sounds like anything near themselves, and yet we hear the word 'original' bandied around far too much. Why is no-one pointing out that yeah, you can hold a tune, but you're holding it in the tribute-act style of Tina Turner? Even 'larger than life' lezzer Sami is a strange Jo from S Club/Jane McDonald hybrid.

They're no better across the pond; fantastic 18-year-old hopeful Melanie Amaro strolled in with a killer set of lungs and a fresh face, but sang Listen note-for-note AS BEYONCE. It was like she was auditioning for Beyonce's maternity cover.

There is a point at which imitation stops being flattering and starts being frightening, and I think this is that point. Not one of the US X Factor judges pointed out this weird Sasha Fierce ventriloquism; Paula Abdul even called her 'original.' Maybe on Paula's medication that sounded original, but from where I was sitting it was pretty carbon copy.

Come on X Factor, have another look at your show's name (and its definition) and let's get some vaguely interesting people in there, preferably singing in the voice they were given.

My tips are Misha and Amelia Lily from the girls, The Keys and The Estrelles from the groups and John from the boys. But going on the show and its hype so far, we'll end up instead with a whole new range of artists sounding exactly like someone already in the charts. Le sigh.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The C Word

I've dated them. I sit next to one on a daily basis. I'm even starting to embrace being one.

That's right, I'm now a fully-fledged commuter.

Commuting is something people always tend to moan about. The early starts, the timetable disruptions - not to mention the time spent with your septum wedged in some less-than-fragrant armpits. But the truth is, I love it.

Yes, there is the odd day when you wish you cycled ten minutes to work somewhere dainty like Stow-on-the-Wold. One such was Monday night, when someone's delightful decision to end it all between a fast train and the tracks at Wimbledon meant I left for work at 7.30 and got home at 9. You know you're a hardened commuter when your first sharp reaction to a fatality announcement is, 'Why not a Southern train, you Guildford-hating bastard?'

So, why do I love the extra two hours (at least) added to my working day?

The Gift of Time

I'm one of those people who rarely uses their flopping-on-the-sofa hours after work wisely. I would rather watch trashy TV than pick up a novel, read Glamour in the bath or do my nails than go to an evening class. But my mind is miraculously hungry on the 7.51 train, and that's when I get my reading done.* One morning a week I learn Greek on my iPod, although vigorously mouthing a grecian 'Are you here on work or pleasure?' or scribbling a baffling alphabet in a notepad is unlikely to win me any commuting admirers.

The Sound of Silence

Ah, the sweet, sweet sound of seasoned commuters ignoring each other. Now and again a rookie will step into the carriage, talking loudly on their phone or blasting Rihanna from inadequately insulated headphones, and we who have committed to this unwritten code of aural lockdown will glare deafeningly in their direction. Britishness at its best.

The Sense of Purpose

I like to be going somewhere. I'm not someone who enjoys spells of unemployment (I know, I know - wrong industry), or longs to live a WAG-tastic life. The feeling of getting up early, having a brisk walk, then watching suburbia shoot by and the city roll into view just suits me fine.

The Extended Morning

This is less poetic, more pragmatic. If I were ever to live ten minutes away from my workplace, Lord knows what I would do. A bag of Mary Poppins proportions supplies me with make-up, moisturiser, a hairbrush, spare shoes and even on occasion, breakfast. On those cursed days when a sprint for the train means flats, frizz and perspiration, all can be rectified on the move.

So while I may aspire to move further into the city this year or next, and perhaps sacrifice my morning train time by doing so, for now my commute adds more to my day than simply hours. Don't see it as a waste of time; put it to good use and you'll be well-read, frizz-free and desk ready by 9am.

*I've just wept through the end of The Book Thief and started on Wolf Hall, both glorious. As you can see, my stack of morning reading is fairly substantial, but new tips are always welcome.

Top photo: steve_w