BWW ASKS: VOICE vs. IDOL: Who Wins This Battle Round?
Now that we've had a week of live show competition between NBC's THE VOICE and Fox's AMERICAN IDOL, I am reminded what it is about each show that I like, and what it is that I don't. Since day one of the Blind Auditions, it has been clear that the talent on THE VOICE dwarfs that of IDOL, as it has for a number of years. As I make very clear in my AMERICAN IDOL recaps each week, I am not delusional in thinking that the vocal abilities of the IDOL finalists in any way rival those of their VOICE counterparts. In fact, early in the season, I ventured to guess that only three or four of IDOL's Top-12 would even get a chair turn, let alone four. That fact notwithstanding, for me, IDOL is still a much more satisfying and entertaining television experience.
Don't get me wrong, THE VOICE's Blind Auditions are great theatre; far better than IDOL's auditions. Obviously though, the two aren't the same thing; IDOL's once appointment-television auditions have devolved into a veritable freakshow for anyone in desperate need of their 90 seconds of fame, no matter how idiotic they have to look to get it. THE VOICE's Blinds are more comparable to IDOL's final solos in Hollywood Week, so you would expect the talent to be better there. Then when you add in the suspense of will they turn around and which coach will the contestant pick, it becomes the highlight of the season. Unfortunately, THE VOICE only goes downhill from there.
After the Blind Auditions on THE VOICE, and after Hollywood Week on IDOL, the enjoyment factor slowly, but surely shifts. THE VOICE's wonky Battle Rounds are designed to do one thing, highlight the coaches, for they, not the contestants, are the real stars of THE VOICE. If the point was truly to discover the best singers, you wouldn't subject half of your potential winners to one-off performances, where, by definition, they have to spend half of their song watching someone else shine.
The idea of a duet is to work together to make the best product. Inherent in the process for each singer is to give up individual moments for collective success. That could mean being silent during the biggest point in the song, or it could mean singing the boring harmony while your opponent wails. It makes for a generally unsatisfying and uncomfortable performance, but it gives the coaches the chance to show how sympathetic and passionate they are about their teams and their artists. That being said, VOICE creator and EP Mark Burnett made a good move when he added the Save a few seasons back. That at least gives a handful of contestants a reprieve from the horrendous format, even if it does put even more focus on the coaches.
To further illustrate the point that THE VOICE is all about the coaches, think about how many times former VOICE winners have been mentioned all season. Now, think about how often the coaches have talked about how many times they have won, or why it is their turn to win this season. The focus isn't on Cassadee Pope's rise to stardom, or Danielle Bradbury's emergence as a country star. No, it is on the coaches, as it always is.
Furthermore, think about where we are at the equivalent point on IDOL. As the finalists leave Hollywood Week, we have been privy to their entire journey; from audition to the often tumultuous rounds in Hollywood to the Green Mile. We have been on that ride along with them. While some contenders fall victim to editing, most frontrunners have been heavily featured throughout, making them far easier to connect with, root for, and pick up the phone to support. And that my friends, is why AMERICAN IDOL is still a more emotionally satisfying experience than THE VOICE, despite its inferior overall talent.
Yes, there are contestants on THE VOICE that I am rooting for, and would be disappointed if they were eliminated early. I mean, Sisaundra Lewis is one of the 10 most talented singers we've seen on either show ever, and how can you not root for Tess Boyer after she lost both Battle Rounds before being saved each time? But, despite having watched every episode this season, I cannot tell you another competitor's full name on THE VOICE. There's the YouTube girl, the Singing Barista, the little guy with the hat who is awesome, but I am in no way invested in any of them. Conversely, if Jena Irene or Caleb Johnson gets eliminated before the Top-3 on IDOL, I will be one very upset recapper. Heck, I was pretty ticked off when Malaya Watson was sent home after the second attempt at Top-8 Week. Not once have I gotten that upset about a VOICE elimination in six seasons, and given the format and focus on the coaches, I don't think I ever will.
Now, don't get me wrong, the coaches on THE VOICE are incredibly entertaining and effective at developing talent, so much more so than the IDOL judges. I would watch a Blake and Adam bromance sitcom, let Usher guide my career, or listen to Shakira talk for years, but there is only so much "Man, this is a really hard choice," and "I've gotta go with my gut," a guy can take. At least with IDOL's panel (much improved from last year), their comments supplement the performances, not the other way around as on THE VOICE.
So, despite my obsession with watching the most talented people, I am inextricably drawn to IDOL over THE VOICE, and not just because I write about the show every week. The connection to the artists as human beings, rather than pawns in the coaches' grand game, will keep me coming back to IDOL until Fox finally pulls it from the schedule or they put Randy Jackson back on the judging panel. Of course, both pale in comparison to the best competition show at blending talent and humanity, SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. Only one month until the premiere!
So, what do you think? Do you agree that IDOL delivers the emotional knockout? Or does THE VOICE score the TKO on points? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt. And remember to come back next Wednesday for my recap of AMERICAN IDOL's Top-5 Week.