It’s hard to believe that we’re already in the third season of The Voice, which my wife and I, after abandoning many of the other reality-based competitive shows, still watch.
There is something about the recipe – experienced singers, all of whom have distinctive signatures – being coached by bona fide stars in their respective genres that is winning. Opposed to American Idol, The X-Factor and, to some degree America’s Got Talent (am I mistaken in hearing that a dog won this edition?) – shows that tend to exploit the differences among those auditioning for their programs – this show actually focuses on finding and nurturing talent and celebrating difference. This last point extends not only to the diversity of voices themselves and song interpretations – making the but to the idea of varying accents (the South, particularly), languages (Spanish – as in Julio Cesar’s audition), genders and sexualities.
While part of the show’s success can be credited to its cultivation of talent way before the audition phase even begins, I think that there are just as many bizarre reasons that compel my wife and I to watch the show.
First, The Voice is so incredibly complicated, beginning with the chairs and just moving on from there. Not only does the show have this central gimmick, but even more surprises along the way, not only for the viewing audience, but for the coaches themselves.
Beyond the chairs are the coaches themselves, whose personalities, rivalries, expertise and name-dropping creates new and pleasurable experiences for all who watch the show. I would say that over the course of the seasons, the biggest payoff has been seeing the development of what seem to be genuine relationships between the mentors and their charges. In this respect, Blake Shelton has been the biggest surprise, especially as he seems to champion underdogs who might not otherwise get airplay, such as Dia and Xenia, who always seemed out of her depth, but who Shelton never lost faith in.
Other pleasures come with the show’s use of melodrama. It appears that it is not enough to merely have a great voice, one needs to have a compelling story, circumstances to overcome, or something to aspire to. This is perhaps the most typical element of the show, as all reality TV uses the sob story as its main way to hook its spectators. Mainly this is because it is the most effective way to get viewers to keep watching – compelling them to follow the various contestants’ narratives and ultimately vote for them. But occasionally, the stories border on the ridiculous – such as Tony Lucca’s having to overcome being the ‘unsuccessful’ Mouseketeer (among his peers Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake) – or merely the fact that one had to overcome being overweight.
I don’t mean to demean any of these contestants, nor to make fun of anyone, just to mention that the logic of the audition rounds and the narrative tradmemarks of reality TV compels the contestants towards their need to ‘overcome obstacles’ (such as teaching children – ech!) to give a go at their one last chance to ever be successful.
Carson Daley is another of the worst elements of the show, but this actually works for it. As far as reality hosts go – he’s not the most insincere (that title would go to Nick Lachey on The Sing Off), but is pretty close. Our favourite part of the audition rounds is when Carson Daley leans over like an umpire with the families watching their auditions.
The battle rounds are where the real pay-offs begin and where my wife and I get the most out of the show. Here, the coaches prime their charges to out sing other people on their teams, usually resulting in some of the worst displays of singing – ever. Usually this means the contestants try their best to do the most runs or to sing as sharply as possible. Sometimes this means seeing some of the most bizarre match ups imaginable, as in this case – (I’m having trouble embedding this, but please do yourself a favour and watch this thing…)
(This is easily one of my favourite TV moments of all time – and I am laughing with tears streaming down my face as I type this…)
The Battle Rounds do have the odd effect of solidifying the contestants to the point that when the finale comes, the bizarre bracketology has truly whittled the competition down to the best of the best – with only truly amazing singers rising to the top such as Season 1 winner Javier Colon, who gave what is still one of my favourite performances here.
(again, my embedding isn’t going well today, but take a look!)
I didn’t really even get a chance to talk about the show’s engagement with social media and twitter. Perhaps I will write more in the future about the show – but this year’s incarnation seems to offer more of the same recipe that it has not only built upon the successes of earlier reality variety shows, but combines all of these elements – good and bad – to provide an extremely entertaining, serialized and melodramatic experience for my wife and I, and obviously the other audiences that have put the show on top.