These days, the competition between talent shows is as heated as the competition on them. Can this Dutch import — and a star-packed mentor panel — give NBC the edge?
Christina Aguilera sits perfectly still in her chair, her legs crossed demurely at the knee and those impossibly long tresses piled neatly on her shoulders. She forms a slight smile with her lustrous red lips. But don’t misread her tranquil appearance: Aguilera would actually prefer to weep (or so she says). That’s because the ”coach” — and whatever you do, don’t call her a judge — has to send a budding pop star home on NBC’s The Voice.
”I’m the proud mother!” Aguilera declares during a recent taping in downtown Los Angeles, while two attractive and fairly talented young women nervously await her verdict. ”From the moment I met you and now seeing you guys come here, I’m so blown away. I’m going to start to cry.”
She doesn’t, but you get the drift of the veritable Sophie’s choice Aguilera has to make in the early rounds of The Voice, debuting April 26 at 9 p.m. Aguilera and fellow coaches Cee Lo Green, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton are tasked not only with mentoring a group of singers — who are picked sight unseen and then whittled down to one winner who’s chosen by the audience to walk away with $100,000 and a recording contract — but also with taking on that other singing competition, a little something called American Idol. The Voice, with its mentoring format, also could be seen as NBC’s preemptive strike againt Simon Cowell’s highly anticipated The X Factor, premiering on Fox in the fall. With Bravo’s Platinum Hit also debuting this summer, it is suddenly a very crowded field of crooners. How will The Voice stand out?
Well, it’s worked once before: The Dutch show from media tycoon John de Mol (Big Brother, Deal or No Deal) debuted in Holland last fall and immediately outranked The X Factor with a market share close to 50 percent. Intrigued by the idea that singers audition out of sight of the coaches, NBC scooped up the rights just months after its overseas debut and brought in Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) to executive-produce and Carson Daly to host. However, the track record of Idol imitators on network TV is, well, a little pitchy. While NBC’s The Sing-Off enjoyed moderate success in its two December runs, shows like ABC’s The One and CBS’ Rock Star (another Burnett production) struggled. Which is exactly why NBC put together an all-star lineup of current hitmakers for its latest entry.
”On a show called The Voice, you need somebody with a voice that is instantly recognizable,” says NBC’s head of reality programming, Paul Telegdy, of his panel. ”We’ve assembled artists in the middle of their journeys, not the end of them.” For that reason, the quartet are still maintaining their own appearance schedules while doing The Voice, but Green says he wouldn’t have it any other way. ”It’s been harder than I anticipated, but all things considered, I’m killing a couple birds with one stone,” says the pop singer, whose chosen costume on the show is a black workout outfit and a pair of diamond-encrusted sunglasses that set him back $10,000. ”This is an entry into another industry that I had yet to experience. It looks good on my résumé!” The pay’s not so bad either: Rumor has it the coaches are earning between $50,000 and $70,000 per episode, with Aguilera ringing in north of that (NBC wouldn’t confirm). If all goes well, the celebrity mentors may even be back for a second season. ”Ideally, we’ll keep everybody,” says Burnett. ”Their chemistry is fantastic. But let’s cross that bridge later.” As for Aguilera, she thinks The Voice’s format can definitely lead to long-term success. ”To choose raw talent based on being moved by The Voice alone is a brilliant idea in this day and age,” the pop star says. Now we’ll see if audiences agree.