Apparently nobody told NBC that singing competition shows are supposed to suck. There was really no reason for “The Voice” to be good. It’s a shameless “American Idol” knock-off with a kind of annoying host in Carson Daly and a couple vastly over-promoted gimmicks. But while parts of it are undeniably dumb, the majority of it is refreshingly endearing and entertaining.
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The first of the two gimmicks, the “blind auditions,” turns out to be interesting not for its novelty, but for its suspense. The deal with these auditions is: The four judges (don’t worry, we’ll get to them very soon) sit facing away from the auditioning performers, and can only turn to see what the performer looks like by committing to be their coach. While the fact that judgments are made on voice alone is the namesake for the show, what’s genuinely entertaining about this twist is that it’s genuinely suspenseful whether someone is going to make it to the next round at all. Sure, that suspense is present to a degree in all reality show auditions, but there’s something about watching a celebrity’s hand hovering pensively over a big red button that brings it to another level.
The other gimmick is that the four judges are in competition with one another to coach the winning performer. Each judge assembles a team of eight singers in the first two episodes that will be whittled down over the course of the show until a final winner is chosen by voters. And watching the judges compete for the performers is fantastic.
We’ve got Adam Levine of Maroon 5 being a little rascal and stirring up conflict; there’s pop star Christina Aguilera being a grounded, intelligent commentator, thus pulling the role of “nice female judge” out from the pit Paula Abdul threw it into; there’s Cee Lo Green of “Fuck You” fame being exuberant, soulful and honestly just happy to be there; and finally there’s country artist Blake Shelton looking incredulous all the time and acting like everyone’s supportive dad.
Maybe there are writers or maybe the judges are just cool people, but the banter between them is awesome. You get the feeling these four superstars would actually go out for drinks together after the show. And you would want to go with them! They’re kind, they’re witty, they’re talented and they’re incredibly welcoming. They save “The Voice” from Carson Daly and the excessive glitz that’s been thrown into it.
Moving forward, the next episode begins the “battle rounds,” wherein each coach will pit members of their own teams against each other, singing the same song at the same time, like Scott Pilgrim vs. the Katayanagi twins. Given that everyone on the show is especially enjoyable to watch, this promises to be a fun exercise, even though it does seem a bit odd when it comes to accurately evaluating someone’s voice.
The main problem with “The Voice” just might be that NBC knows it’s actually good. Even within itself, the show is excessively promoted. What makes the judges and contestants so lovable is their grounded vibe and desire to focus on singing. But this clashes with the show’s grand-scale, in-your-face-all-the-time production. It’s like NBC is a small child, running around going, “Are you watching yet? Are you watching yet? Are you watching yet?” Yes, NBC, we are, and it’s very good. So please stop yelling about it.