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Telemundo's 'La Voz' Hands Latino Kids The Mic

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 3:34 am

NBC's singing competition The Voice dominated the ratings game this spring and last fall. Now, the Spanish kids' version has become the top-rated show for NBC's sister network, Telemundo. The show, taped before an audience in Miami, features Latino children from the U.S. competing for a scholarship and a recording contract.

Some of the contestants still have baby fat or braces on their teeth. And some, like Cuban-American Paola Guanche, have precocious voices that you wouldn't usually hear in an 11-year-old. On La Voz Kids, pint-size contestants sing everything from Puerto Rican salsa to norteño ballads to American R&B in both English and Spanish. It's the U.S.'s only adaptation of a franchise that's done well in 55 countries, from the Netherlands to Afghanistan.

No one seems more surprised by the show's success than Daniel Cubillo, vice president of Telemundo's nonscripted shows. "In the very beginning I thought that it could be a mistake," he says. "But I have to recognize now that I was wrong — completely wrong."

Cubillo should know: He produced Spanish versions of The Apprentice, Big Brother, The X Factor and Temptation Island, none of which have the rights to air in the U.S. Still, he admits he had doubts about Telemundo creating a children's show.

"I was afraid about the kids' version because it's so different, it's so pure," Cubillo says. "Kids are providing us with some elements that we couldn't get in the adult version, for sure."

That includes endearing scenes in which cute, small children burst into tears when they're eliminated and get hugs and kisses from their tearful coaches onstage.

Host Daisy Fuentes says the children have big dreams. "They're not joking around," she says. "They want the success. They want the fame and they want the recognition. And most of them will tell you it's to help their family."

The field of contestants gets whittled down every week and the kids are coached by three celebrity judges, including Mexican pop diva Paulina Rubio, who began as a child performer. "I started at 7," Rubio says. "I got a recording deal, so no [one more] than me can understand them and their fears and their family's doubts. It is a lot of pressure."

Rubio notes that the show works with a team of psychologists to help the children. "The whole project is taking care [of] these little souls," she says.

After losing a battle round on a recent show, 7-year-old Christopher Vega thanked his coach, Roberto Tapia. He removed the rosary beads around his neck and gave them to Tapia as a gift, then asked his coach for a blessing and a little good luck kick in the behind — a Latin American showbiz tradition. (Click here to see the adorable thank you, which starts at 6:25.)

For years throughout Latin America, there have been kids' singing competitions on TV. And in the U.S. last year, Univision aired a children's talent show called Pequeños Gigantes. But blogger Laura Martinez notes that that show wasn't produced in the U.S.

"I think what La Voz Kids is doing that is really different is that you have kids that are actually born and raised in the U.S.," she says, "versus just watching a show imported from Mexico."

The popularity of La Voz Kids has already inspired Fox to begin producing a similar show for its Spanish-language network, MundoFox. And other major English-language networks may soon be knocking off the knockoff to boost their ratings with singing kids, too.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

NBC's singing competition, "The Voice," has been on top of the ratings in the fall and the spring. Now, the kids' version in Spanish is the top-rated show for NBC's sister network, Telemundo. It's taped in front of an audience in Miami, featuring Latino children from the U.S.

As part of our month-long look at kids and culture, NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this report on "La Voz Kids."

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Some of the contestants still have baby fat or braces on their teeth. And some, like Cuban-American Paola Guanche, have precocious voices unlike most 11-year-olds.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "LA VOZ KIDS")

PAOLA GUANCHE: (Singing) Turning tables.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Sing it, baby.

GUANCHE: (Singing) Turning tables.

BARCO: On "La Voz Kids," pint-sized contestants sing in both English and Spanish.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "LA VOZ KIDS")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Singing in foreign language)

BARCO: No one seems more surprised by the show's success than the vice president of Telemundo's nonscripted shows, Daniel Cubillo.

DANIEL CUBILLO: You know what? In the very beginning, I thought that it could be a mistake. But I have to recognize now that I was wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

CUBILLO: Completely wrong.

BARCO: Cubillo should know. He produced the Spanish versions of "The Apprentice," "Big Brother," "X Factor" and "Temptation Island," none of which have the rights to air in this country. But he admits he had doubts about Telemundo creating a children's show.

CUBILLO: I was afraid about the kids' version because it's so different, it's so pure. Kids are providing us with some elements that we couldn't get in the adult version for sure.

BARCO: Endearing elements like cute, small children bursting into tears when they're eliminated and getting hugs and kisses from their tearful coaches on stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "LA VOZ KIDS")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BARCO: Host Daisy Fuentes says the children have big dreams.

DAISY FUENTES, HOST:

They're not joking around. They want the success, they want fame, and they want the recognition. And most of them will tell you it's to help their family.

BARCO: The field of contestants gets whittled down every week. And the kids are coached by three celebrity judges, including Mexican pop diva Paulina Rubio, who began as a child performer.

PAULINA RUBIO: I started at 7. I got a recording deal. So nobody than me can understand them and their fears and their family's doubts. It is a lot of pressure.

BARCO: Rubio says the show works with a team of psychologists to help the children.

RUBIO: The whole project is taking care about these little souls.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "LA VOZ KIDS")

CHRISTOPHER VEGA: (Singing in foreign language)

BARCO: After losing a battle round on a recent show, 7-year-old Christopher Vega thanked his coach, Roberto Tapia. He removed the rosary beads from around his neck to give Tapia as a gift.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "LA VOZ KIDS")

VEGA: (Foreign language spoken)

BARCO: Then Christopher asked his coach for a blessing and a little good luck kick in the behind, a Latin American showbiz tradition.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "LA VOZ KIDS")

VEGA: (Foreign language spoken)

BARCO: For years, throughout Latin America, there have been kids' singing competitions on TV. And in the U.S. last year, Univision aired a children's talent show called "Pequenos Gigantes." But blogger Laura Martinez points out that show was produced outside this country.

LAURA MARTINEZ: I think what "La Voz Kids" is doing that is really different is that you have kids that are actually born and raised in the U.S. versus just watching a show imported from Mexico.

BARCO: The popularity of "La Voz Kids" has already inspired Fox to begin producing a similar show for its Spanish language network, Mundos. And other major TV networks in English may soon be knocking off the knockoff to boost their ratings with singing kids too.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Singing in foreign language) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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