“American Idol” Vs. “The Voice”: Which is Superior?

I’ve sailed through the eleventh season of American Idol and the second season of The Voice like a damn trooper. I’ve skewered them both for your entertainment. But now the time has come to pick the better show, and I’m using seven categories of criteria to reach a verdict. Idol is better in some regards while The Voice wins in others, but the overall results are in! Dim the lights and let’s crown one singing competition king. We’ll start the showdown with my favorite category: hosting.


1. Hosting: Carson Daly vs. Ryan Seacrest


Is there a reason why the hosts on talent competitions aren’t discussed more? Frankly, they’re the most critical element of the proceedings. Both The Voice and American Idol are uncontrolled blitzes of power ballads, lighting cues, and talky interludes, and it takes the finesse of a killer emcee to rein it all in. And if we’re being honest, the winner in this category is a no-brainer: While Carson Daly brings a straightforward, sympathetic air to The Voice’s megawatt presentation, Ryan Seacrest manages the freakish glare of Idol with the precision and care of a true Dick Clark scion. Remember just last week when Carson Daly couldn’t get his panel of judges to settle down following Cee-Lo’s fit of flatulence? All I can say is Ryan Seacrest would’ve never let that happen. He’s too commanding in his TV-ready authority, too superhuman in his clean articulation, and too altogether mystifying. You need a topaz-colored wunderkind to handle a beast like Idol, and Seacrest makes it look damn easy. Even if I don’t always love his snide asides to the judges and contestants, I can’t deny he is a one-of-a-kind presence and the lynchpin of Idol’s continued success.

Winner: American Idol


2. Judging: Adam, Cee-Lo, Christina, and Blake vs. Steven, J-Lo, and Randy


Confession: This is sort of a toss-up! Conventional wisdom says that the Idol panel is a trio of clapping, nodding non-Cowells who never say anything of value to the contestants while The Voice’s judges’ criticisms seem more direct and specific. But the honest truth is both Idol and The Voice have their great and nauseating judging moments. Steven Tyler can be downright damning, Jennifer Lopez can be incisive, and even Randy Jackson can pinpoint a song choice issue pretty well — though all three can yammer meaninglessly at other times. The Voice’s feel-good vibe can be cloying and stupid too, though I think Cee-Lo and (wait for it!) Christina Aguilera are often dead-on. I’ll give the edge to The Voice for the judges’ personal involvement with the contestants, but this victory isn’t a landslide.

Winner: The Voice


3. Early Round Format: The Voice’s Battle Rounds vs. American Idol’s Group Rounds



Prepare yourself for American Idol’s second gigantic victory in this grudge match, because I’m dumbstruck by the weirdness of The Voice’s battle rounds. Not only does the concept of pitting two singers against one another (in a boxing ring!) as they sing the same song seem bizarre, it’s also an ineffective way of finding the best contestants. When The Voice’s Erin Willett barely beat out Gwen Sebastian for Blake Shelton’s approval following their rendition of “We Belong,” I was angry — not because Erin wasn’t great, but because the competition needed both contestants. Yet only one could advance, and the tender, quirky Gwen was sent packing. Meanwhile, American Idol’s semifinal group rounds provide the same thrill — fun duets and trios — but with the assurance that every great performance be rewarded. Imagine if Jennifer Lopez had to choose between DeAndre Brackensick and Jessica Sanchez on their collaboration on “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” in Las Vegas. I’d cry, of course, and one of two very deserving Top 10 finalists would be vanquished. Perish the thought!

Winner: American Idol


4. Later Round Gimmick: The Voice’s Instant Eliminations vs. American Idol’s Judges’ Save

And here we have it, the perhaps-fatal flaw of American Idol: The Judges’ Save, the one-time veto that the judges can use to override America’s vote and rescue one contestant from elimination, is senseless. When Jessica Sanchez earned the lowest number of votes following her stellar version of Jazmine Sullivan’s little-knownStuttering,” the judges pulled her off the chopping block to the delight of the in-studio audience. The next week, when the just-as-adored (arguably) Colton Dixon received the lowest number of votes, the judges couldn’t rescue him because they’d already exercised their big save. You see what I’m getting at? Jessica Sanchez is still in the competition only because she failed first. That has nothing to do with her skill as a singer. Meanwhile, The Voice’s instant eliminations — in which each judge evicts a contestant before home voting begins — is based purely on the performers’ talent. James Messone, pictured above? He was the worst performer that evening. With the worst jacket. He earned those walking papers from Cee-Lo. So as far as fate-reversing gimmicks go, The Voice’s wins out.

Winner: The Voice

5. Contestants: The Voice’s Top 16 vs. American Idol’s Top 13

We could match up both shows’ competitors by talent, but that’d be fruitless. It’s more useful to compare both clans by their overall appeal: American Idol’s ragtag posse seems like a connected bunch of youngsters trying to hit the bigtime while The Voice feels like a melting pot of fine voices with less Billboard potential. Simply put: Idol is out to produce a Carrie Underwood, and The Voice is out to produce a Susan Boyle. Call me superficial, but I’d rather root for someone with genuine starpower and a good voice than someone who only has a good voice. Nigel Lythgoe, your kingdom wins again.

Winner: American Idol


6. Song Choices


I admire American Idol’s hokey commitment to theme weeks, because it’s sort of spellbinding that the most popular show of the past decade has had episodes devoted to Neil Sedaka, Leiber and Stoller, Carole King, and other people your parents (and grandparents!) care about. But The Voice’s song choices are just cooler: Consider the second week of live rounds, when we heard selections by Smashing Pumpkins (“Tonight, Tonight”), Adele (“Rolling in the Deep”) Tears for Fears (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”), and the Bangles (“Walk Like an Egyptian”) in one evening. You’ll rarely hear a mix as wide-ranging and inspired as that on Idol.

Winner: The Voice


7. Best Performance of the Season: Juliet Simms’ “Roxanne” vs. Elise Testone’s “Whole Lotta Love”

The best performance of American Idol’s eleventh season and The Voice’s second season stick out like sore thumbs: Elise Testone turned the Idoldrome upside down with her gritty, raucous, throaty, and totally credible version of Led Zeppelin’s raunchiest track, and Juliet Simms outgrowled her competition with the coolest Police cover since Alanis Morissette’s unplugged rendition of “King of Pain” in ’99. Bottom line: Elise’s version was start-to-finish exceptional, and I think Juliet’s suffered from one too many pangs of introductory melodrama to come out on top here. While I like that she has the gall to wear enormous wings onstage (in last week’s version of “Cryin'”), I have to put up with the fact that she’s wearing enormous wings onstage. Elise is a no-fuss rock star. Period.

Winner: American Idol


Overall: The Voice vs. American Idol


The Voice is a fresh, well-soundtracked competition in substance over style, and American Idol is a more Billboard-centric, yet somehow more old-fashioned exercise in building a pop phenomenon. Ultimately, Idol is a smoother-run machine with a more exciting outcome and contestants we grow to love faster. Damn the everlasting genius of Simon Cowell, because the winner of this duel is pretty clear.

Winner: American Idol