The last thing the American public needs is the one thing NBC hopes to create: another guilty pleasure. NBC has long been promoting its new singing competition, The Voice, hoping to prove that the struggling network still has some tricks up its sleeve. While, at its core, NBC's trick is yet another reality singing competition, it does vary from the format of the hugely popular American Idol enough to pique the curiosity of viewers.
At least for the first show.
In its Tuesday night premiere, The Voice managed to draw close to 12 million viewers, making it the most-watched network series premiere since CBS's Undercover Boss. With this kind of early fanfare, many people are wondering what makes The Voice different from viewers' beloved American Idol, and whether it's worth two hours of their time.
Forget the contestants. The real superstars of American Idol have always been the judges. While there were some bumps along the way, ratings seem to suggest that the addition of Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler to resident Randy Jackson have been a boon to Season 10. The three have formed a cohesive panel and judging has become a lovefest, where almost all the contestants are told that they are beautiful and amazing.
The Voice was eager to point out that their panel of recording artists, made up of Maroon 5's Adam Levine, Cee-Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton, are not judges. They're "coaches," whose role is to nurture fledgling artists in an attempt to help them develop into the next big star. It remains to be seen whether they will follow the same inane pattern of most American Idol guest mentors or actually invest in the contestants.
From its premiere, American Idol has never shied away from looking for the whole package in a contestant. The whole package shamelessly consists of talent, stage presence, and like it or not, looks. Idol probably would never have become the powerhouse it is today without the auditions process, in which countless contestants are subjected to ridicule based on their talent and, often, their appearance. American Idol also has a strictly defined age bracket, accepting only contestants ages 15 to 28.
The Voice, perhaps noticing the staying power of American Idol post-Simon Cowell, has decided to create a gentler audition process that welcomes all types and ages. NBC's show has also steered clear of the open audition, thereby avoiding the countless exhibitionists seeking their two minutes of fame, which Idol is always way too eager to grant.
The novelty behind The Voice begins with the audition process. The contestants audition while the "coaches" have their backs turned to the stage, forcing them to base their opinion on voice alone. If they believe a contestant has enough talent to become part of their team, they push a button that spins their chair to face the stage. If only one coach turns around, the contestant becomes part of that coaches' 8-person team; if more than one coach turns around, the contestant gets to choose which coach they would like to work with.
Yes, it all sounds very amicable and unbiased, but several of the coaches voiced their regret over not picking a contestant after seeing them. Alternately, Christina Aguilera, unlike Lady Gaga, lacks a poker face. It was painfully obvious when she was disappointed in a contestant that she chose.
Of course, once the audition process is completed, there's nothing stopping the coaches from booting those contestants who do not pass the aesthetics test, since they eventually eliminate half of their 8-person team, after which America will ultimately vote for the best singer out of the four teams – and we all know how unaffected Americans are by appearances, right?
Despite the strong premiere, it is too soon to tell whether The Voice has enough to tempt viewers beyond their initial curiosity. But with a refreshing and engaging panel of coaches (is Adam Levine not devastatingly charming?) and kinder, higher-caliber auditions, they are off to a good start.
So readers, is The Voice already programmed into your DVR? Can it be the silver bullet that finally takes down American Idol? Do you prefer JLo to Cee-Lo, Carson to Ryan? Share your thoughts.