Let me start by saying I’m an unflinchingly devoted American Idol fan. I’ve watched all 11 seasons religiously – never missing an episode, except when I boycotted the remainder of season 4 out of principle once Scott Savol outlasted Constantine Maroulis – and can even remember the names of contestants that never made it past Hollywood. (Well, hello there season 10’s Aly Jados, who was also cut from The Voice last night!) Even in the past few weeks, when friends and family have been trying to convince me that I need a new obsession, since the ratings-troubled Idol is “so over,” I have covered my ears and launched into a five-minute tirade about how Idol will last forever because it has to, because how would I or America cope without it, you can’t tell me it will ever die, it can’t! Phew. Calm down, Kate. Go soothe yourself with a YouTube viewing of David Cook’s season 7 performance of “The World I Know.”
Okay, soothed. But, regardless of my love for the show that fuels my existence, I have to give props to its hot-on-its-heels competitor: The Voice’s auditions are so much better than Idol’s.
It pains me to say it – I never want to kick Idol when it’s down, especially when The Voice is looking so up. But it only took a look at last night’s new two-hour episode of The Voice to hope – as many Idol hopefuls sing – that change is gonna come during Idol’s future audition rounds.
Idol’s auditions have history on their side – almost any TV viewer can remember the exact moment in which they were amused or in awe watching auditions from William Hung or Carrie Underwood. And the Fox series has a buzzy panel: Audiences have only become more interested in Most Beautiful Newly-Single Person Jennifer Lopez and memoirist Steven Tyler since they began their stint on the No. 1 show on television. But The Voice has newness on its side – the chair-spinning is gimmicky, sure, but it’s also different – and an even buzzier panel. Still, The Voice’s success in the audition rounds doesn’t just lie with the fact that its mentors are more relevant in the music industry than an aging rock star and early 2000s pop queen. It lies with the fact that its mentors are simply more fun to watch than Idol’s aging rock star and early 2000s pop queen.
Tyler and Lopez might be dedicated to finding true talent on Idol, but Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green, and Christina Aguilera are dedicated to fueling The Voice’s competition, making for a much more enjoyable experience for the viewer. The foursome puts their chemistry, and in-fighting, on full display – so much so, in fact, that you begin to feel like you’re part of the gang just by watching The Voice. Unlike Idol, audiences don’t even need to see train-wreck auditions to be entertained – instead, we derive TV joy from watching the four mentors joke, trade low-blow barbs (see: Aguilera calling Levine a Justin Timberlake wannabe), and play to the audience (see: Shelton thanking the crowd after one contestant shares her crush on him). And, in between, we see some pretty great performances too.
But that’s the key difference between Idol and The Voice: Idol is about its contestants, some of whom go on to become multiplatinum artists like Underwood or Kelly Clarkson; The Voice is about its star-studded panel of mentors. The chatter after single Idol audition episodes revolve around the contestants guaranteed to become finalists; the chatter after single Voice audition episodes revolve around Aguilera’s bust. And that’s exactly why Idol – boring auditions and all – still shouldn’t despair. The Fox series maintains viewer interest over the course of a season because of its revolving cast of finalists – by the time we get to country week, we hardly care what the judges’ panel thinks of our beloved favorite. As soon as we pass the audition rounds on The Voice…what exactly happens again? Why aren’t Levine and Aguilera still arguing?
Still, Idol has some catching up to do. A series only in production for one year has managed to master the audition process, while even the most fervent of Idol fans have complained about auditions for 11 seasons straight. (Perhaps Idol’s judges’ panel simply has to take a page from the mentors on their NBC rival and find, for a lack of a better word, their voice?) But The Voice’s freshness and masterful treatment of the reality singing competition audition format hardly means Idol’s end. In fact, as you read this, you’re still wondering if Idol’s Johnny Keyser will make it past the Hollywood round tomorrow night, right?
Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW