For many of us, superficiality has been inescapable since preschool. The reality singing competition “The Voice” is like going through the first week of classes without anyone paying attention to what you’re wearing.
NBC is billing its new program as a triumphant first step toward getting past looks and having inner talent be the motivation to sell records. The show is centered around four celebrity coaches (Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine of Maroon 5) who get the opportunity to choose eight singers from an indeterminate pool of talent based purely on vocal presence. They sit in giant red Bond-villain chairs with their backs turned as each performer belts their signature song.
In its own minute way, the show succeeded in its first two episodes, introducing some characters that may not normally have been given a national platform to display their singing talents (but they neglect to mention that a handful of the contestants already have established music careers).
The show is far from an objective battle of talent that’s devoid of visual assessment. Each contestant still stops off at hair and makeup before they appear before the judges and the nationally televised audience. The pair of duets that have made it through to the current round still bothered to color-coordinate their outfits.
Now, the singers have been unmasked, and the show will proceed with a few mentor-heavy weeks of coaching where the focus will remain on vocal ability, but it will still incorporate some of the superfluous elements that “The Voice” seemed to be trying to avoid.
In fact, if “The Voice” really wanted to be what it claimed in its pre-premiere run-up, all of the singers would be nameless, faceless darkened outlines until the winner was revealed on the season finale. It’s not a completely realistic premise, but it would mimic real life more closely.
Whether these kinds of shows succeed because of or in spite of it, the audition process was comically divergent from the typical job application process. As anyone who’s sent an email to a potential employer can attest, not everyone who a person may “audition” for will kindly give constructive feedback, explaining what went wrong or why they did not respond to your original query.
But, to their credit, certain coaches have decided to work with various performers who lie outside their established vocal stylings (Jeff Jenkins, a baby-faced crooner who nailed the Rascal Flatts song “Bless the Broken Road,” will now be mentored by Levine). If these contestants can thrive alongside talents outside their comfort zone, it may give credence to the idea that, to be successful, all you need is to get your larynx in the door.
One other thing that “The Voice” has on its singing-show rivals in terms of being closer to the actual way that the job world functions is that the employee is hardly ever the star. “The Voice” is making it as much about the four established singers as it is about the aspiring stars. Even when the show switches to a live format in a few weeks, the individual singer’s accomplishments will undoubtedly be presented through the prism of the coach who first selected them and nurtured them along the way.
The most “real” moment on the show was in the second episode, when a singer who had been previously neglected by all four judges came back for a second chance, only to be unanimously vetoed again. Here, that woman’s experience was the exception, but it seems as if, for most of us seeking employment, that might just be the rule.
The opening weeks’ ratings for “The Voice” have been impressive, with its premiere besting both “Dancing with the Stars” and “Glee” and its second episode only added a larger audience. But the numbers for this week’s episode slid, indicating that many viewers may already be disenchanted.
Instead of prematurely patting ourselves on the back for giving objectivity an unequivocal victory, let’s look at whether the success of a show like this could change the way we evaluate who is worthy of our attention.
If the first time you heard of Rascal Flatts was in “The Emperor’s New Groove” soundtrack, email Greene at [email protected]