Friday, May 18, 2012

THE MINOR DIFFERENCES: "THE VOICE," AND WHAT REALLY SEPARATES IT FROM IT'S COMPETITION



Since the second season of "The Voice,"  ended, I started watching the UK version of the show, "The Voice UK", on youtube.com. Why, have I started doing this? Curiousity, is of course a major reason, but the real reasons is that, it was available on youtube, and I wanted more of "The Voice"! I hadn't had enough. Sure, I'd prefer if Juliet Simms had beaten Jermaine Paul in the finals, but I voted for both of them, and Chris Mann in the final; they each gave three great performances the night before and they were all incredibly deserving. (I liked Tony Lucca too, but didn't vote for him because I thought his version of "99 Problems," was not one of his strongest performances, and oddly it had nothing to do with any of the Christina vs. Adam rumors/controversy) I told this to somebody the other day, who laughed at me, since, even after seeing "The Voice," he believes the show to be another copy of "American Idol" and "The X-Factor, " which he hates. As many loyal readers will note, I also don't like "American Idol," and I absolute hated "The X-Factor", and in one of my earlier "Good On TV?" blogs, I outline all the major distinctions between the three franchises, and I stick by that article. To me, saying that "The Voice," is just like those other shows is like saying that "The Bob Newhart Show," and "In Treatment," are exactly the same, because both shows involve a main character that's a psychiatrist.

Now, I grant you, that I am the person who analyzes and looks at those slight differences more than most people. Some people just see a reality show or a reality show concept like a singing competition, and immediately will look away, or they'll look towards it, and the same really goes with every genre and subgenre, and that's across all literary mediums, but especially with television, you're able to see firsthand the major differences every week. Personally, I think it pains me more when I see that a lot of people are watching (or in many cases, critics ravings about) a TV show, that's not very good, even more than when people like a movie or a book that's really bad. Especially when their are so many shows on TV, that essentially seem to be copying each other. You know, somebody did the math at one point, and I might off on the numbers by a bit, but I remember hearing a statistic that said that since the '50s, there has been an average of 18-19 hours a week of TV programming in primetime, devoted to crime solving shows, police shows. You can take a look at the Network TV landscape now, and every channel, has their own police procedural or five or six, and yet, the differences are minor, but they're important. They're small, but they're the reason why "Law & Order: SVU," is worth watching every week, and why "NCIS," is pretty boring every week. I've lost count of the amount of TV sitcoms I've seen now with six leads, 3 young males, and 3 young females, since "Friends" went on the air. Most of them suck though. Occasionally there's a "Happy Endings," that, doesn't suck as much, and on rare occasions, you'll see the British version of "Coupling," which I think blew "Friends," right out of the water. (The American version of "Coupling," we don't ever need to discuss) I'm a little amazed that their hasn't been some pieces out there discussing the similarities and differences between "2 Broke Girls," and "Don't Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23" yet, cause those two shows have basically the same plotpoints and storylines, and yet, the differences between them are night and day. (Hold on. [Talks into tape recorder] Ideas for a future blogpost....)

So, what's the small distinction that keeps making me come back to "The Voice," in multiple forms even, while I can't even give "The X-Factor," a look without frantically searching for the remote. "American Idol," and "The X-Factor," (Well, the latter tries to anyway) and most of the other similarly structured reality shows are about who wins. They're about the contestants.What song are they gonna sing, who has the best story, did they pick the right song, were they unable to pick the song they wanted..., their focus has always been on the contestants themselves, so much so that, it's as much about their image, as it is about their singing ability. It's not, what are they thinking, it's more about, what we think of them, and the one that's the more people like, wins. Yes, there's that part of "The Voice," but it's not as prevalent, and frankly, comparatively the audience has very little say into anything that goes on. This is a key difference, cause "The Voice," isn't so much about the contestants as it is the judges, and more specifically the thinking process of the judges. On the other shows, essentially, the judges are like me, a critic. I see something, and then I write about how I perceived it, in their case, they say it. Some judges, for-lack-of-a-better-term, hold back, while others, let their true feelings be heard. I do that too sometimes in my reviews. I try not to, but it happens sometimes. On "The Voice," first-of-all they're coaches, not judges, and there's a big difference, second, the talent level on the show, and I can't stress this enough, is so high. I mean, the Finalists on "...Idol," right now, would barely break the Top 20, maybe on "The Voice," in any country, so for one thing, there's no need for anything antagonistic to be said, at least not to the contestants, but we get something more interesting, we get glimpses into these judges' thinking process. Take for example, the blind auditions. They're all good singers, but which ones do you turn around and take? It's not easy, they only have a limited number, and if they pick one, who is even, remotely 2nd tier to the other contestants, what's that say about them. Their credibility is on the line. Your looking for certain things, other things. The almost-pressing of the button, says as much about what they're looking for as when they do, and also, when they press it, is of critical importance. Early in the song, late in the song? on a note? Is this guy a one-song wonder, or is this guy even a guy? I already have two soul singers, should I let this one go, or do I hit my button to make sure Blake doesn't get him. These are just some of the questions that must go through their minds as those blind auditions go on. There's no psychological chess like this going on "...Idol," it's sing, and if you're good, we'll let you on, and if we let you on, and we hate you, the audience might like you anyway. It's a tough job narrowing your team to ten or whatever, and then, you have to pair them up and battle. What if you pair two great singers together, one of them is out, or two lousy singers and you have to keep one of them? Who wants to make that choice? I don't. What song do you give them? What if, the person you know is a better singer, and has a better chance to win, has a lousy battle round, against somebody who I don't like? All these little nuances and differences, have found a rare forum where the most famous people in the world at their one personal musical genre, essentially have their thoughts processes on display. You know the real intrigue in Howard Stern's joining of one of these reality shows as a judge, isn't so much that somebody as outlandish as Howard Stern is doing it, but instead, the real intrigue is that, we're going to get a rare glimpse into the real, off-air, Howard Stern, that we've only heard about and rarely seen elsewise. We know the character he plays, but the real interest is the person we don't see, the real Howard Stern, the one that's off the air, has a wife, goes to a shrink, watches reality TV, the one that needs to star in his own biopic. He's a major public figure, the self-proclaimed "King of All Media", and 98% of what we know about him is the act he performs, and now suddenly, we get another aspect of him, by just him suddenly doing "America's Got Talent". On "The Voice" we get to see four superstars of that level, their personal selves, every week on "The Voice", whether it's how they work/don't work with their contestants, judging talent themselves, or in their attempt to organize their talent, and how they help/guide them, and who they help/guide the best. These dynamics are unpredictable really (and since these professionals have reputations to protect, very dangerous to some extent), but every little choice and action they do, gives us new insights into people we previously, only thought we knew. No other show gives us that. That's one thing reality-competition shows don't give us enough of that, and they very easily could.

Let's face it, anybody can put a sign that says "Singing Competition," and people will sign up for it. You can put up a sign that says "Biggest Hemorrhoid Contest" and people will sign up for it. Maybe I'm the only one, but I expect more than that out of primetime television, even in these reality-competition series. You don't believe me, or don't want to bother with the genre, go ahead, and I understand. Believe me, I can get turned off very easily at overexposure to a lot of crap. Lots of reality TV, lots of reality singing competition, and most of them are crap. I've only compared two, there's been more on cable, (and that "Duets," that ABC's advertising, that looks, maybe worse than all of them.) but "The Voice," is a perfect example, of how even, what seems like the slightest distinctions of the formula, really can make such a huge difference.
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