If you haven’t been watching “The Voice” this season, you’re missing out. Seriously, 10 million people watch the show each week. The contestants are topping the iTunes’ rock and pop charts in the U.S. And as we look to the season three finale on Tuesday, it’s simple to see the show’s undeniable critical appeal, too.
Sure, “The Voice” wasn’t all that when it first debuted in April of 2011. The Blind Auditions — which featured judges Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton picking their teams of singers based on their voices alone — were intoxicating fun:
The coaches’ backs are turned. The singer walks onto a quiet stage in a live arena. The coaches hear a voice but see nothing — no wild mohawk, no demure countenance, no True Religion jeans, no frumpy, discount store slacks.
It makes for addictive television. But the show lost steam (in the first couple seasons, at least) as it moved into boxing-styled matches that pitted singer versus singer.
And then season three came along in September. The beauty of the ever-evolving reality show format is the tweaking process. Something’s not quite right? Change the rules. Turn it on its head. Switch things up completely.
And the teams grew in size (from 12 to 16) in season three as the coaches gained the ability to “steal” discarded singers in the battle rounds. Talk about dramatic!
It sounds like such a minor change. But after Cee Lo picked Trevin Hunte over Amanda Brown in a battle — and all three other coaches immediately (and passionately) tried to steal Brown for their own team — it was enough to register on the emotional scale. Who doesn’t love a second chance?
But the biggest change this season equaled the playing field — and it will hopefully prevent another lackluster winner (a la season two’s Jermaine Paul). As previous seasons whittled down their numbers, revealing the Top 8 and later the Top 4, they kept things equal among the coaches. The Top 8 had two contestants from each of the four coaches. The Top 4 had one from each side.
But not this year. The results? Christina and her team were out of the running after the Top 8. Adam, a past winner, was out after the Top 6. The Top 4 featured two of Blake’s artists and two of Cee Lo’s singers, a field that was narrowed down to three competitors earlier this week in advance of next week’s finale.
And now the three finalists deserve to be there this season. They didn’t slip into the final on the misguided loophole that allowed Jermaine Paul to win season two.
Speaking of this year’s finals: Tuesday’s show will feature Scottish crooner Terry McDermott and Florida pop singer Cassadee Pope, both of whom represent Team Blake. Cee Lo’s only chance at a victory resides with Minnesota soul singer Nicholas David.
It’s easy entertainment, and the music’s occasionally great. Have I downloaded any of the singles off iTunes? No. Are any of these artists going to become stars off the show? Not likely. But some of the songs — combined with the obligatory life-is-hard backstories — can make for a moving night on the couch.
Some will call it mindless. And I won’t argue that point. But here are some of the reasons why “The Voice” is one of the most popular shows in America — and why its many incarnations are topping ratings all over the world.
Carson Daly might be a robot: NBC posterboy Daly hosts the show, and while he handles the complicated live shows with aplomb, his rapport with the contestants is delightfully awkward. During the Blind Auditions, he uncomfortably roots with the family members backstage. During the finals, he stumbles as he tries to relate to the contestants, past and present, with strained hugs and forced friendliness.
Cee Lo is a freak, and he knows it: The pop star behind “Forget You” and the Gnarls Barkley hits isn’t afraid to bring his cat to the set. Or his parrot. Or he’ll wear a greasy wig. Or he’ll wear a gospel robe. Sunglasses? Always.
Sometimes they pick legit music: On Dec. 11’s show, McDermott and Pope sang the very trendy Of Monsters and Men track “Little Talks.” The Icelandic band’s original is one of the year’s best pop jams, and it was wild to see it get that kind of a primetime stage. Granted it wasn’t the best duet of the season. In fact, it just didn’t work with Pope’s at-times-strained voice. But it was still fun — especially since the youthful band was in the audience looking thoroughly non-plussed.
Christina doesn’t hide her fandom, or lack thereof: The woman known as Xtina didn’t like fan favorite Melanie Martinez, and she couldn’t hide it. She did love McDermott’s amped-down “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” performed with only a piano and cello accompaniment a few weeks ago: “After hearing that, there’s no doubt, I feel that Blake has the strongest team … You murdered it tonight.” She said that without a horse in the race, as all of her team had already been voted off the show by America.
Christina Milian is mildly obnoxious: Milian acts as the show’s social media monitor as she interviews competitors and judges between sets, and she’s not always prepared for what awaits her — especially on live TV. A few weeks ago, she took a question from Twitter directed toward McDermott: “Is @TerryMacMusic a hobbit?” Answered the Scotsman: “Busted. I’m from Aberdeenshire in Scotland … so I’ve got a little hobbit in me. (Then he turned to Milian with a lifted eyebrow.) You got any hobbit in you?” Milian’s awkward, suggestive answer: “Not yet … Yeah! Amazing! Back to you Carson.” The camera cut to Carson who smartly left it with: “I’m not saying a thing.”
Adam Levine looks good in a V-neck: Levine is one of the most telegenic people on TV. The Maroon 5 frontman is an easy-on-the-eyes dude, and he’s also a thoughtful interview. As we’ve learned from “The Voice,” he also has a penchant for distressed Ts and deep Vs.
Fast-forward through the incessant promotions: Yes, “The Voice” includes all the new songs from Christina’s new record and Maroon 5’s latest single — not to mention random guests, from country star Jason Aldean to rapper 50 Cent. Sometimes they’re worth a listen. Sometimes you can tell right quick that they’re not worth your time, and it feels good to fast-forward your DVR through the mania of Blake’s “White Christmas,” fresh off his holiday offering.
After all of this, one aspect of the show still stands out as thoroughly strange: Seeing legitimate, platinum-selling stars critiquing these vulnerable amateurs. Sometimes they’re filling time, sure — talking because they have to fill 45 seconds, complimenting a singer even if their heart isn’t in it. But elsewhere they are truly swept away by a performance, and whether it’s tears in Cee Lo’s eyes or a lump in Blake’s throat, that honest reaction is what makes this show such valuable entertainment.