Even though the landscape of televised singing competitions is crowded, The Voice is a clear standout. When you compare it to American Idol, The X Factor or America’s Got Talent it seems to me like The Voice has the broadest appeal. The current season features two new artists sitting in the judge’s chairs. Usher and Shakira have stepped in for Cee-Lo and Christina Aguilera and I think the change has made the show even better.
For those who don’t know, the format of The Voice differs from the other shows because the initial audition rounds are conducted differently. When a contestant is performing the judges have their backs turned so that they can only hear the contestant’s singing voice and they have to decide, blindly, whether they want to mentor that singer or not. If multiple judges choose a singer then the singer gets to decide which judge’s team they will join. When the judges have to compete against each other for a singer, it can be the most entertaining thing on the show. Listening to Adam Levine sell himself as a coach, while being teased by Blake Shelton is very funny. The show’s most potent element is the easy rapport between the judges and the removal of Christina Aguilera’s slightly catty negativity has made the show a lot more light and fun.
We will still need to see how Usher and Shakira fare during the actual competition to know whether the change is ultimately positive. While I never really love Cee-Lo and Aguilera during the judging rounds, they have been fantastic mentors and coaches. Cee-Lo ‘s encyclopedic knowledge of music and his willingness to take creative chances has been a real boon to the singers who have been under his wing. The members of Christina Aguilera’steams have benefited greatly from her technical brilliance as a vocalist and from her understanding of how to control an audience with her voice. If they want to succeed as coaches, then Usher and Shakira will have to learn how to translate their strengths as performers into lessons they can teach the people they will be guiding through this competition.
When I compare The Voice to the other shows of its ilk, I like it the most because of the overwhelming tone of positivity that the show has. There are no cattle call auditions that exist for the sole purpose of humiliating people, there are no freak show elements and the judges offer constructive criticism in place of the often vicious and insulting commentary that is the hallmark of those other shows. That being said, this is an absolute make or break season of The Voice. In the three seasons of the show, it has had tremendous ratings and generated serious buzz, but it has not done one very important thing. It has not turned a contestant into a star. If I asked you now, you probably couldn’t tell me who won any of the seasons. There hasn’t been any top ten singles or platinum albums released post-show by any of the winners, and if The Voice isn’t a vehicle for stardom, then why does it exist? American Idol remains the only show that has been a consistent star maker and until another show is successful in that regard, Idol will remain the most relevant. I am not sure why the winners of The Voice have not been able to find post-show success, but it is a glaring weakness in what is otherwise a superior program. If this season doesn’t produce a true success story, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see the show slowly start to fade away. I really enjoy The Voice, so I am rooting for it to succeed. A-