The Voice - Season One
As if it weren’t already obvious enough how broken American Idol is – mediocre talent, flawed voting system, male favoritism, low stakes, out-of-touch judges – along comes The Voice to remind us all what it’s like to watch a fresh and relevant singing competition on TV. The Voice came out swinging last night, quickly proving why NBC put such an absurd amount of promotional weight behind it. They know they’ve got a hit on their hands.
The timing of the premiere was a calculated move on the part of NBC – just as this season of Idol is getting tedious and stale (seriously, another theme week of bland male vocals?), The Voice flips a lot of Idol’s weaknesses on their head.
Idol has always been about the journey of the contestant, in America’s hands. They seek undeveloped, raw talent, and America watches and votes, as the young’ns gain poise and vocal chops, while shedding a few pounds and acquiring fashionable clothing. But as the talent pool has dwindled, this model has faltered, while the judges (especially in recent seasons) have become accessories to this journey, spewing generic advice from their powerless chairs.
The Voice focuses on more established singers, eschewing tedious montages of “hilariously” bad auditions, instead pre-screening for more polished singers, so the focus can be on the competition and the coaches. As the coaches compete to add each contestant to their roster, the viewer has a rooting interest in each audition specifically, rather than on Idol, where the viewer has a vague and generalized interest in the auditions as a whole. Now we get to watch the coaches shape and mentor strong, charismatic singers, rather than watching America fumble its way through endless voting rounds (miss you, Pia!).
The concept works (thus far) thanks to the stellar casting of the coaches. The banter between Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera harks back to the early days of Simon and Paula (they’ve even got the sexual tension!). Cee-Lo with his flashy glasses and Blake Shelton with his endearing emotionality round out the cast nicely. The element of competition between coaches is fantastic – turning the Idol tables around and having the coaches pleading to the contestants is refreshing and necessary.
While Idol has toyed with relevancy with the addition of J-Lo (just ten years too late, guys!), The Voice crew is rooted in today’s music scene. It’s hard not to tear up when Shelton spins his chair for a country crooner or Xtina hits the button just as a diva-in-the-making hits her first high note. The coaches have the modern credibility to “crown” their contestants in a way Randy Jackson – or even Steven Tyler – never can.
The singers themselves showed promise, although it remains to be seen if the show was able to find talent strong enough to sustain weeks and weeks of programming. Early standouts include Vicci Martinez (kudos to NBC for allowing contestants to be upfront with their sexuality, which FOX has painfully avoided on Idol) and Javier Colon. Even Kelsey Ray with her unbearable “it’s so hard to be taken seriously when you’re this beautiful” mantra helped assert The Voice’s superiority over Idol – whereas Pia had to waste four weeks proving she could actually sing by choosing safe power ballads, Kelsey can now skip that step and jump right into whatever musical direction she chooses. It’s only been one episode, but this much is clear: Scotty McCreary and James Durbin wouldn’t turn a single chair on The Voice.
The concept, coaches, and talent are strong, but the telecast itself was iffy at times. As great as the coaches are, that’s how awful Carson Daly is as host. His stiffness makes Ryan Seacrest seem loose and personable in comparison. The show could benefit from a more comedic voice, so this casting was a missed opportunity. While some production gimmicks were fun (the over-the-top swiveling chairs, periodically occluding the face of the contestant so the viewer could mimic the experience of the coaches), others were distracting (bland tweets flashing over the screen, overly revealing teasers at the end of each segment).
But who’s the real loser here? FOX and X-Factor. Simon Cowell left Idol at the right time, and X-Factor solves a lot of Idol’s problems... but in the same way The Voice does... with a less exciting crew of coaches. That said, if anyone can overcome The Voice’s first-mover advantage, it’s Simon. And Simon vs. Xtina is a battle I’m happy to watch.
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