May 2 (Bloomberg) -- NBC’s “The Voice” combines game-show dazzle with talent-competition drama, all but declaring this season’s gooey “American Idol” a lily-livered has-been.
Making good on its pledge to showcase contestants’ vocal abilities over style and looks, “The Voice” unveiled a scorching initial lineup of singers in last week’s premiere.
Twenty-six-year-old Vicci Martinez’s powerhouse rendition of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” blew away anything offered this season by the unexceptional roster of “Idol” hopefuls.
Beyond the competition itself, “The Voice,” produced by reality-show vet Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”), seems designed as an antidote to the lovey-dovey judges’ panel that’s drained all the drama from this season’s “Idol” on Fox.
“Voice” judges -- country star Blake Shelton, pop singer Christina Aguilera, rock frontman Adam Levine and R&B superstar Cee Lo Green -- vie against one another to recruit the most promising singers, compiling competitive teams of vocalists. A season-long winnowing process will land the last singer standing a recording contract and $100,000.
In format, “The Voice” literally turns the tables on “Idol.” During the current “blind audition” rounds, judges (or “coaches,” in “Voice” parlance) face away from the singers.
Join My Team
If, say, Aguilera, likes what she hears, she presses a button that swivels her seat to face the music, then attempts to convince the singer to join her team.
“I have people I know,” Aguilera promised sought-after contestant Javier Colon, whose sultry “Time After Time” was a highlight of the night.
“I’ve got people, too, baby,” Levine shot back.
The good-natured rivalry among the coaches seems Burnett’s clear response to the congenial, friction-free approach of “Idol” judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson. The two-hour “Voice” premiere, given a prime-time repeat the following night by a bullish NBC, displayed an appealing chemistry among the coaches that has eluded the new “Idol” judges.
Neither Burnett nor his show are subtle in their “Idol” digs. One of the contestants who passed the first round of auditions was Frenchie Davis, the 2007 “Idol” semifinalist booted from that show when topless photos from her past resurfaced. After Davis landed on Aguilera’s team, host Carson Daly combined congratulations with a snipe by gushing, “People are going to love what you represent, which is never give up.”
Where “The Voice” falters is its complicated elimination process. The blind audition rounds will be followed by team competitions and individual eliminations, performed on a stage that resembles a boxing ring as envisioned by the set designer of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
Even after several on-air explanations, I’m not entirely sure how it will play out, a marked departure from the elegant simplicity of the “Idol” sing and judge format.
“The Voice” debut clearly bested recent “Idol” episodes in one key area: tension. The will-they-or-won’t-they press the button moments left at least two good singers rejected and dejected.
That frisson (and disappointment) has been all but absent from “Idol” since the departure of truth-telling judge Simon Cowell. While its ratings have remained strong and steady, “Idol” this season has lacked the water-cooler buzz of its heyday.
Based on its premiere episode, “The Voice” just might have the pipes to fill the void.
“The Voice” airs tomorrow on NBC at 9 p.m. New York time. The following three Tuesdays, the show will start at 10 p.m. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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