Like many of my fellow Americans, I became hooked by latest singing-competition-sensation "The Voice" on NBC.
This surprised me most of all, as I effectively abandoned the Reality genre of television years ago. The last time I watched "Idol" (I mean really, watched) was to cheer for rocker Constantine and THAT was even before the endless parade of would-be Idol knockoffs started poking up (Hey, I have an idea, let's just do American Idol, but with Dancers! or Chefs! or Celebrities doing...something!)
How surprising it was to see that not only did Voice make a viable challenge to Idol, but it actually made good television. Being better than Idol is only the least of Voice's victories (a low bar, in my opinion) but here's the reasons why it has me believing again.
1. The judges matter
In Idol, the judges are designed as some sort of Yin to the singer's Yang, offering biting rebukes and criticism that is, much like themselves, utterly pointless. Simon Cowell is a good judge of talent and his remarks are often spot on. Yet the opinion of these industry experts means nothing in selecting a winner. Instead a horde of 13-year-olds go on a texting spree and thus year after year the same pop-rock, radio ready, hack jobs get the top prize.
Not so in Voice. The "coaches" select their team and play a greater role in shepharding them to the final showdown than the voting public who, to reiterate, knows nothing about actual Talent. From the original 32 contestants the public doesn't even have a say until it's whittled down to 16 and up until the final crown the public votes are matched equally with the Coaches educated opinion.
Idol starts with a circus and ends with a clown. The first half of the season is spent rifling through sad, sad individuals to find the diamonds in the rough and comes off feeling more like exploitation than entertainment. (see: William Hung's "She Bangs")
Voice draws from a pool of individuals who have already made some headway in the music industry. Whether they have experience on Broadway or are cutesy singer-songwriters that have made a small local splash, these are all people who have attempted, to varrying degrees of success, to make it in the business and actually know a thing or two about a) songwriting and b) performing. To whit: the winner is crowned based on their performance of an original song.
3. Blake Shelton
When all is said and done, Voice isn't about the contestants, it's about the coaches and no one was a better, more endearing papa bear than big Blake. Adam and Cee Lo (forget you Christina, you narcissistic hack) did better than I expected but Blake really took the "coach" title to heart and developed a familial protective vibe for his team. His post-performance critiques were the most constructive and his praise the most sincere. "I'm glad I know you" and "I can effect the most change with Xenia." I'm not a country music fan but in one short season I am a Blake Shelton fan.
3. High Stakes
In Idol we watch at a snails pace as the horde of carbon copies are picked off ONE AT A FREAKING TIME over the course of what feels like ages. In Voice, the competition is structured single-elimination tournament style where each week half, yes HALF, of the prior episodes singers are sent packing.
Those high stakes lend a tension and, more importantly, a momentum that keeps you invested week after week.
Yes, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was a disaster and the cutesy-twins were the most Idol-esque competitors in the competition. Still, the inclusion of duet acts on the Voice added a nice variety to the otherwise top 40 Kareoke-fest and the head-to-head matchups made for some of the most memorable moments (for good or ill) of the competition.
One of the main reasons I gave up on reality TV was that it started to make me feel sad about society. Even the Amazing Race, the golden child of outlast-style reality competitions, makes full use of temper tantrums and breakdowns in its promotional material. Celebrity Apprentice is all about watching B*-fights between Gary Busey and Star Jones and of course Idol, where we drudge the barrel of society and cast the biggest spotlight we can on peoples failures.
If you made a drinking game out of negativity on the voice you would come away stone cold sober. The entire show focuses on the come-back-kid awe-shucksness of human achievement and its rare to hear anything but outright glowing remarks from the judges. When improvement is needed, they offer advice but always from a respectful and congratulatory vein.
6. Dia Frampton
So pretty. Sooooooo pretty. I follow her on Twitter.