What is the point of The Voice of Ireland?
At one level, the question is easily answered. The reality singing contest is a reliable ratings earner and a useful podium for celebrity beanie hat-wearer Bressie. Setting these entirely laudable accomplishments aside, the matter grows more complicated: if, as it says on the tin, the purpose of the show, returning Sunday for a fourth season, is to unearth the stars of tomorrow, can we agree it has flopped unambiguously?
Without question, the leap from reality telly fame to proper, real-world success is not easily achieved. Even X Factor, Simon Cowell's machine-tooled hit factory, has a patchy record: for every One Direction, there are many, many Joe McElderry and Sam Bailey cautionary tales. Still, its batting average is at least respectable – in contrast to The Voice of Ireland, which has proved itself endlessly abject at turning nobodies into somebodies.
Consider the trajectory – if that's the word – of Brendan McCahey, last season's winner. Since triumphing on The Voice, the Monaghan native has released one single, which fairly stiffed in the charts at number 15 (it will have sold several thousand units at most). This is unfortunate as McCahey is clearly a talented vocalist and decent chap – surely he deserves better than headlining a "Gala Christmas Concert" in a midlands church, according to his website his most recent live booking?
His inability to leverage Voice Of Ireland success into anything approaching a mainstream career is no one-off. Whither season one champion Pat Byrne? What are the prospects for 2013 champ Keith Hanley, currently to be seen in panto in Cork? Not quite three nights at Madison Square Garden, is it?
But while its hit ratio is lamentable, perhaps we should not to be too harsh on The Voice of Ireland. Internationally, the franchise has demonstrated little of the star-making savvy of X Factor or American Idol. When last has anyone hear from Jermain Jackman, winner of season three of the UK version of The Voice? In fact, his follow-through achievements are arguably even less impressive than those of his Irish peers, with his debut single dead on arrival on number 39 in the UK charts.
It's frequently claimed that reality shows of this ilk are about the judges, not the contestants. That is unquestionably true of The Voice on the BBC, in 2014 chiefly noteworthy for the presence of Kylie Minogue (replaced this year by Rita Ora). In the case of The Voice of Ireland, though, the criticism feels especially on the nose. The head-scratching ascent of Bressie to the status of official national pin-up is noted above – meanwhile, in the run-up to Sunday's return the attention has focused on debutante adjudicators Rachel Stevens (she was in S Club Seven a million years ago) and Una Foden of The Saturdays (Girls Aloud, if nobody liked their songs).
To the extent there is any anticipation ahead of the upcoming series (debatable) it is surely due to this fresh infusion of c-listers. Nobody cares about the hopefuls vying to be crowned 2015 champion, for the very good reason that they likely to be as anonymous at the end of the process as when attending their first audition. So by all means enjoy the canned 'banter' between Bressie and fellow coach Kian Egan and, yes, be on the lookout for sparks between Foden and Stevens. But, coaches aside, let's not delude ourselves that The Voice is anyone's ticket to the big time.
The Voice of Ireland returns Sunday 6.30pm on RTE1.