Thursday, April 28, 2011

"The Voice": Better Than "Idol"?

"American Idol" has been king of the reality singing competitions for 10 seasons. Coming this late in the game, a show like "The Voice" seems like it would be yet another copycat, an attempt to cash in on "Idol's" dying gasps. But there is something genuinely fun about this show, a freshness that I did not expect to find in such a stale concept.

The first rounds of "The Voice" are based on a blind audition round, where the coaches - Xtina, Blake Shelton, Cee-Lo and Adam Levine - are judging the contestants based solely on, well, their voice. All of the contestants are chosen ahead of time, avoiding the nonsense bad auditions that plague the first rounds of "Idol" every season. If one of the coaches wants one of the singers on their "team" of 8, they press a button to basically offer a spot on their team to that person.

What I personally love about this concept was that the coaches then have to sell themselves to the contestant, who ultimately gets to choose whose team they get to join if they have had multiple offers. So not only do we get to hear talented singers, we get to see them have a small measure of power over their own destinies. Of course, working with any of the four is a dream come true for most of these artists, so there's really no way to lose - unless nobody turns their chair around, which only happened a couple of times in this first round.

The coaches are a bit of a surprise, too - I expected to like Cee-Lo, and Adam Levine, but wasn't sure if Xtina's diva image would get in the way, and I had never heard of Blake Shelton. But all four of them seemed to really be enjoying themselves, lavishing praise on deserving contestants and playing up the drama in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way. They seem to actually want to nurture the talent of these contestants, to really find the best people and help them make the right connections. And they themselves just feel more connected to the contestants than the much more aloof judging panel on "Idol."

So is it better than "Idol"? Maybe, maybe not. It's hard to compare one episode to ten seasons of talent. But I love that the singers are all talented, and that the coaches/mentors are all passionate about the people they are vying for. That may be difficult in the next round after auditions, when they have to cut their teams in half. And "The Voice" may get a little too Idol-y in the last few rounds, when the final group is chosen and America gets to vote on the winner.

But at the very least, this first round is something fresh and exciting, a new take on the singing competition. The blind auditions mostly ended up being pretty people, sure, but there were a few surprises mixed in for the coaches in terms of look and presentation. If next week is as entertaining, I'm in, at least for the season.

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