One of the things that happens when you are on vacation and stay with other people is that you relinquish control of what you watch on TV. For most people this is probably not a big deal, but for someone like me that is no small thing. I will admit that on more than one night while I was away I wound up staying up well after everyone else had gone to sleep with my headphones plugged into my Nexus tablet, catching up on my shows on Hulu. You can’t expect me to quit cold turkey.
However, I like to think I am a very polite house guest, so I would not subject other people to my TV preferences or rigorous viewing schedule. I was ready to go with the flow; whatever everyone else was watching, I would watch. So I saw a lot of daytime TV that I am not normally home to watch, like the Today Show (Kathie Lee and Hoda are insane) and Good Morning America. I watched the local news, which I never watch at home. And the first night that I arrived in Florida, I watched The Voice.
Now, I’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that I don’t like reality talent competitions. They just aren’t my thing. I haven’t historically paid much attention to America’s Got Talent, X Factor, American Idol or The Voice beyond the constant rotation of celebrities that are judges. But when in Rome……so I settled in to politely smile through my first episode of The Voice if necessary and hold my sometimes overly critical opinion to myself.
So the fact that I actually enjoyed The Voice was a nice bonus. And believe me, no one was more surprised by that then me.
Now I was vaguely aware of how the show worked with the blind auditions; I don’t think that you can watch any amount of programming on NBC and not pick up on the basic concept of the show from the many promos that air. The visual of the judges spinning around in their giant egg-like space age chairs was one I was familiar with. I knew that each judge formed a team, but I wasn’t really sure of the specifics beyond that – what happened when multiple judges wanted a contestant? How many people were on a team? Did the judges have to turn their chair or could they all pass on a contestant?
I’ll admit that as the show started I was pretty skeptical; the focus on the often sad or challenging backstories for the contestants reminded me too much of the contrived narrative of the Olympics (and we all know how I feel about the Olympics). For talent shows, I am only really interested in the actual talent. I don’t want to be manipulated to root for someone because they have had a tough life. They should get through on merit, not based on who has the saddest personal history. I know that some people really eat that stuff up, but I am not one of those people.
Thankfully, The Voice keeps that stuff to a relative minimum and the judges are apparently unaware of all this information during the audition. They do not converse with the contestant before the audition; they don’t even know the person’s name or gender or if there are multiple people or if it is a solo act. On more than one occasion, the judges have been quite surprised when they turn their chair at the end of the song; the voice and the appearance of the contestant to not always match the judges’ expectations. The determination of whether to send the person on to the next round really does seem to be based primarily on the strength of their performance.
What really struck me about The Voice was the chemistry of the four judges. Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and newcomers Shakira and Usher (replacing Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo) all seem to really like each other. While they are competing against each other, there is a lot of playful banter in their exchanges. Watching the judges interact is a lot of fun; I can’t say that I was a huge fan of any of them before watching The Voice, but I have a lot of goodwill toward each of them after watching the show. They seem genuinely interested in helping others in the industry. It may all be an act, but they really give the appearance that they want to be there and that they want The Voice audition to be a positive experience for everyone, even the people who are not selected to compete on the show. I’ve always found the audition process on American Idol to be a little mean spirited; some of the people that are selected to perform for the judges are obviously there for the audience to laugh at and the judges’ input is not always constructive criticism. From what I’ve seen of The Voice, no one has been put on television who is truly terrible. Some of the performances are slightly shaky and uneven, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone that completely lacks talent. For those who don’t turn any chairs, their exchange with the judges at the end has uniformly been professional and encouraging; the judges often appear to feel terrible that the person wasn’t chosen and provide useful feedback on what people need to do to improve. Almost everyone is encouraged to audition again in the future after making a few adjustments and I don’t think I’ve seen an exchange where the judges have been unable to give the unsuccessful contestant some sort of compliment as well. The Voice has a surprisingly positive vibe for a reality show. The judges really appear to want people to succeed.
The Voice also doesn’t have an annoying host like some of the other programs (cough, cough – Ryan Seacrest – cough cough). I’m never really had a problem with Carson Daly and he is used very sparingly on the show. In fact, you kind of forget that he is there a lot of the time until the camera cuts backstage to get the reaction shot of the friends and family of the person auditioning and suddenly you see Daly hanging out with them. He’s mostly in the background from what I’ve seen and while he isn’t a musician, he has a long history with the music industry and his Last Call with Carson Daly has provided many up and coming musicians a showcase. On some shows, you aren’t even sure why the host is there (Khloe Kardashian-Odom, anyone?). Carson skulks around behind the scenes and pops up when necessary. That’s what a host should do.
I’ll admit that I was intrigued enough about my first experience with The Voice that I have watched several more episodes since I’ve returned home and now have full control over the television. I’ve seen most of the blind auditions, but haven’t seen any episodes of the actual competition. Depending on how that is structured and executed, I may not enjoy the show as much. I also can’t say that I was super invested in any of the contestants; there are definitely some talented people competing, but I think the draw for me is always going to be the judges more than the performers. With my busy schedule, I don’t know that I’ll go out of my way to keep up with the show and make it part of my regular rotation. However, when there is nothing else on and I want to watch something that doesn’t require my full attention, I would definitely consider watching a few episodes of the show on demand in the future. I am curious by what “stealing” a contestant from another person’s team entails. My positive experience with episodes of The Voice doesn’t completely change my stance on reality show talent competitions – I still don’t think these shows are up my alley – but it is nice to know that some of them are much better than others. An hour of Adam Levine isn’t the worst way to spend an evening.
The Voice airs Mondays and Tuesday nights on NBC at 8pm (ET).