From its amusement-park-ride chairs to its cluttered concept, The Voice was a garish bore over two hours on Tuesday night – it was less about the strenuous voices of the singers than the yammering voices of its celebrity “coaches.”
By this time, you’ve got to know the concept, right? This was the show that NBC has been ceaselessly defacing the lower third of our TV screens with its promotions during shows ranging from Parenthood to 30 Rock. Singers warble to the backs of Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, and Adam Levine. When one of these pros, pumped with positivity – “We’re not judges; we’re coaches”; “It’s not about the judgment; it’s the journey” – liked what he or she heard, the coach slammed a big button, the chair did a 180, and the celeb made a pitch to the rookie.
The problems with The Voice begin with the fact that it exists. By which I mean, TV has just about reached the bursting point of “discovering new talent”; there’s nothing in this show that you couldn’t have gotten from American Idol, America’s Got Talent, or The Sing-Off. The quickie biographies edited to pull at your heartstrings (it takes a show as superficial as The Voice to leave me unmoved by a woman who said she was homeless), the cover versions of songs you’ve heard 1,000 times from contestants on other shows – did people who enjoy time-period competition Glee or Dancing With the Stars feel the need to switch over and watch this hodgepodge for anything more than a few minutes?
Of the judges, Shelton and Green were the most entertaining – frequently funny and occasionally insightful. Levine was doing his best to register as a personality, and there was some trumped-up arguing and competitiveness between him and Aguilera. And Aguilera radiated her usual smug, unwarranted queenliness. Or as host Carson Daly called them collectively, “four of the biggest artists on the planet Earth.”
Which is the other thing that makes The Voice tedious: You’re not just rooting for the singers, you’re also supposed to root for the judges – they need to win over contestants so they can “fill out their teams” of eight vocalists.
The only surprise of the night was the entry of disqualified Idol contestant Frenchie Davis, making a kind of comeback here as a singer who joined Aguilera’s team. Like a bald, more soulful Pee-wee Herman, Davis is apparently being allowed to re-enter the pop culture now that arbitrarily sufficient time has passed since her original, ridiculously condemned sex-related sin against propriety.
The one aspect of The Voice that’s supposedly distinctive – the “blind audition” process – lasts for only the few minutes of every contestant’s initial performance. Once the “coach” gets a load of who he or she might be coaching, the singer’s whole package (look, age, attitude) comes into play as much as it does on Idol. So unless America is transfixed by spinning chairs – and by next week’s new visual gimmick, a glowing boxing ring in which contestants will bellow it out – I can’t imagine (or hope) The Voice will gather much momentum.