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I Can See Your Voice — Fox’s musical competition series based on a hit Korean game show in which a rotating cast of celebrity judges help a contestant guess if a crop of singers (aka “secret voices”) have good or bad voices without hearing them sing a note and with a cash prize on the line — launched its debut season in September after its production was derailed by the pandemic, having only one episode shot before the set was closed in March 2020. The team, including host Ken Jeong and executive producer James McKinlay, did not let the shutdown slow them, though, and used the time off to study that first episode and make improvements for their return, when I Can See Your Voice became one of the first shows back to work. With season two now also in the books, McKinlay spoke to THR about bringing the hit Korean concept to America and finding the country’s worst voices.
How did you adapt this Korean format for U.S. audiences?
The most significant element was that we wanted to create more of a game-show feel and create more stakes within the show. The Korean format is much more of a panel-based format, where the music star is the main focus and the panel is advising them throughout the show. In Europe, a lot of panel shows work very, very well, but they’ve never worked that well in the U.S. market. Something that [Fox reality chief] Rob Wade wanted to do was to bring in the game-show element, so we added a contestant [who assesses the singers], and then we had to figure out how that part of the process would work in terms of the musical guest being in a slightly different role. It’s really given us something that I think U.S. audiences have loved, and it’s given us the human-interest angle as well in terms of the stakes of what you’re playing for.
What is the casting process like for the good and bad singers?
It’s a real journey for them having to effectively fake that they’re a performer. You forget how many natural things people give off when they’re actually a performer, even from the way they walk to how they hold the microphone. We’re constantly against the panelists and trying to trick them on some occasions, and then in other ways we have our Susan Boyle-type singer, who may not look like a performer but then has this incredible voice. We work with them extremely closely — the good singers as well as the bad singers. There’s a fantastic team of vocal coaches and choreographers who work right up until the last minute because if you’re training somebody who’s not used to performing, it’s a big deal for them. They’re going into the live studio setting in front of celebrities, and they have to be able to pull it off. They work extremely hard, but they all enjoy it; we have so many lovely letters and emails from secret voices after they’ve been on the show about what an incredible experience it was for them, so it’s a really rewarding thing.
What are the challenges that come with casting bad voices?
We have to be very careful that when we’re casting them — it’s going to sound a little odd — but that their voices are sufficiently bad. And we do have that sometimes, where during the casting process, we have to drop people because there’s definitely a level of one to 10 of how bad a singer someone is. They have to be a naturally poor singer in every way — some people can certainly slip in and out of a melody, and that doesn’t work for us. It’s got to be somebody that is virtually tone-deaf. It has to be something that’s a natural part of their makeup so that when they do hit the stage, it’s all there to show off in the right way.
What was it like to be one of the first productions back?
We were very much one of the first, which was a little nerve-wracking, but it was so well done by the COVID support team that we had around the show. We were expecting a lot of stops and potentially people not being able to come in, and we didn’t really have any of those issues. And Ken was extremely on top of it as a medical doctor. It was helpful because if anyone had any questions — even when we were off set — about things, he was always extremely willing to talk us through his knowledge because he read up massively on the whole subject.
What will season two look like?
We’ve taped season two, and we are super excited about it. There’s a whole new round of panelists and music guests, and we have made some changes to the format a little bit: Some of the lip-sync rounds are slightly different — there’s more of a battle element going on. Then we have a new lifeline which we’ve introduced that brings a slightly new element. We’ve definitely changed it up, but we’ve kept the core DNA. We had Ken in tears about four times this season.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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