Why, Why, Why Do People Watch “The Voice”?


If you heard pained whines coming from the direction of West Hollywood on Sunday night, it actually wasn’t the vocals of “Work Bi**h” ringing through Mickey’s. It was me dealing with the fact that The Voice won Best Reality Competition over the superior So You Think You Can Dance, all due to the fact that voters are enamored of the show’s nice-guy approach to karaoke criticism. “It doesn’t matter what you look like!” The Voice assures its contestants, confusing self-congratulation and condescension for acceptance. “Just sing!” But after watching the fifth season premiere, I am more confident than ever that I dislike everything this show stands for — especially these five things.

The auditions are terribly awkward.

You can say that American Idol auditions are awkward, but at least the judges on that show are completely aware of what they’re getting with each tryout, even if it’s a screechy mess they reject on spot. On The Voice, every possible permutation of the audition process is awkward. If a contestant’s voice compels the judges to turn around in their chairs, then we sit in agony watching them feign excitement as they lay eyes on the performer and pretend he/she is what they wanted all along. The Voice purports to be all-accepting when it comes to the age of contestants, but you could flat-out see Adam Levine adopting a diplomatic grin when he turned out to find he’d chosen 40+ year-old contestant Donna Allen on Monday’s premiere. Image is a part of artistry, and to pretend it isn’t is disingenuous. It’s like you’re watching cool high school kids pretend to enjoy sitting with their teachers or freshman siblings at lunch. It’s not just awkward because it feels like a lie; it’s also because these people shouldn’t need cool high school kids to feel talented.

There is no benefit to being on any team.

Team captain Blake Shelton has won three seasons of The Voice, and I can’t for the life of me understand why. It’s so rare that we hear anything resembling tough criticism or even novelty come from Shelton, the man who once roundly dismissed a performance of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Broadway vet Tony Vincent by calling its dubious choreography (which had nothing to do with Vincent or his voice!) “satanic.” The entire team format is a canard anyway when you consider that contestants, no matter what team they’re on, are still forced to square off against strangers within their own team.

We don’t need more pop stars. We especially don’t need more pop stars who aren’t image-conscious.

The question remains: When will The Voice produce a breakthrough superstar? Winner Cassadee Pope has had a couple of entries on the iTunes charts, but she still has yet to build a pop culture presence. In recent years, American Idol has had a similar problem, even if Phillip Phillips scored a huge hit with “Home” and a regular old hit with “Gone Gone Gone.” The problem is this: We don’t need more pop stars. We have about seven, and that’s enough. When Kelly Clarkson emerged in 2002 (and really hit her stride in 2004), we were in need of a new pop icon. Now, as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, and Bruno Mars continue to devastate Billboard, it’s clear we’re in a pop age chockablock with slick, image-centric idols. To break through an unpolished, un-preened public figure would be a pretty amazing feat, and I’m not surprised The Voice hasn’t made it happen yet.

The duel rounds are painful.

I mean, there’s a boxing ring. And two people are forced to pretend they’re “duetting” when in fact they’re caterwauling over one another. It’s not painful pageantry in the fun Drop Dead Gorgeous way. It’s just overbearing.

Do you really want to listen to pop stars only because of their flawless voices?

Because with the exception of Adele — whose success has much to do with the fact that she also writes her own music — what current pop stars are known simply for their staggering voices? In my opinion one of the most ideal singing competition contestants ever was Leona Lewis since she was beautiful, had a marvelous voice, and could transmit vulnerability within the confines of an overplayed radio ballad of yesteryear like “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” But even Leona was only good for one Billboard hit because she was able to transfer her emotional bleat into an unusually danceable song that also served her balladeer voice (“Bleeding Love”). Having a great voice doesn’t mean you necessarily stand for anything, and that’s The Voice’s biggest problem: It’s a vocal meritocracy, and that means artistic appeal — what you’re actually listening for in a record — is drowned out by a Philistine need for pitch perfection. It’s a show that poses as a righteous arbiter of quality, but all it’s actually doing is attempting to make you feel bad for preferring Madonna.

Will you be watching The Voice this season?