Executive Producer Julie Ward had been weighing up whether to include the audition as late as last week, but ultimately decided the family had been consulted all along the way and wanted Romy’s audition to air.
On Sunday viewers watched Romy cry after the coaches failed to turn for her song, Turning Tables. It led to much discussion in the media, including from psychologists and Nine’s own Karl Stefanovic who described it as “uncomfortable.”
Julie Ward told TV Tonight, “Even until Friday there were discussions. Is this a risk we need to take or not take? But we were confident that we had gone so far down the track with Romy and her family that in fact if we had pulled it she would have been more upset.”
Ward oversaw extensive rehearsals to anticipate anything that might happen, including readying the coaches for an upset contestant.
“During the rehearsal period with the kids we would rehearse with the chairs turned, with some of them turning, and no chairs turning,” she says.
“We let them sit in the chair to get familiar with the character that was ‘the chair’ to prepare them as much as we could.
“Of course putting them into the (Live) situation it was going to have a life of its own, but we did as much as we could to prepare them and their families. There were all sorts of meetings to keep them in close communication and to give them feedback from the psychologists.”
While only The Voice asks its contestants to sing to the backs of chairs, Ward admits it was touch and go as the scene unfolded with Romy. Had rehearsals for the worst-case scenario been enough?
“I remember it very clearly when she broke down in tears. All of us were thinking ‘Oh my God.’ We were all on the edge of our seats wondering ‘How is this going to play out?’” she recalls.
“But it is part of the format that the coaches have to work with the kids as much as they possibly can so that they don’t walk off the stage upset. We also have Producers standing by with the parents close by.
“In the case of Romy the coaches jumped up immediately and it was genuine. I guess we realised how great they were at that moment, particularly Joel. He drove that really well. The other thing that touched me was how the audience supported her. They were upstanding, and it was like a huge, big hug.”
Not every child who auditions makes it to air (every child receives a DVD copy of their experience). Was it right to include this one, given the way it played out?
“I thought ‘People will be wondering if that happened.’ So to the extent that it was well-handled by the coaches, the family, that it was a positive experience with her walking off saying she would be back…. I felt it was something we needed to share with the audience,” she explains.
The family was also shown the edited footage before it aired.
“They were very happy with it. Romy herself was very happy with it and subsequently felt it was a good healing process,” says Ward.
“They were looking forward to it going to air, so we feel that we performed our duty of care above and beyond.
“So with all of that in mind I’m actually quite proud of how we have all managed it with the families to ensure that it’s been a great experience for them and the kids.
“The debate that has ensued as a result of us airing it was a healthy debate and always there are 2 sides of every argument.”
But why not simply re-shoot the end of the sequence, or edit the tearful moment? Was the welfare of the child compromised by the limits of the Reality format?
“I think we might be torn down for fabricating the truth and not showing the kids were getting upset,” Ward suggests.
“We don’t do second takes on anything. In the Blind Auditions it is as it happens. Obviously we cut it down because it runs longer, but the only thing we did a second take on was an audio problem and they started again. But apart from that we never do any pick-ups.
“I guess that’s the part of the format that is the real part.
“It is authentic.”
Shine Australia has also worked with the NSW Office of Children’s Guardian to meet its duty of care to families and contestants. It follows the company’s previous production of Junior MasterChef.
These include no mention of surnames or schools, no school uniforms in interviews, 10 minute breaks every hour during publicity, a parent and a publicist with a Working With Children permit present at all one-on-one interviews and photographs.
“There are very strict guidelines as to what we can and can’t do,” Ward insists.
“It’s very regimented but obviously for the right reasons. We’ve worked very closely with them and we’ve graduated with flying colours in their eyes.
“On reflection I’m really proud of what we and the team have done to work with the families and the kids to give them the respect that we’ve taken from the adult show.
“We’ve really kept in mind that this is a life experience for them, not just a TV show.
“Ultimately I stand by what we have done. There are people who will agree and won’t agree.
“I feel (the family) are the people we need to be accountable to.”