Open Mic

The Unexpected Appeal of NBC's 'The Voice'

Hillary Atkin Posted April 29, 2011 at 6:16 AM

Having never been a consistent fan of reality shows, reality competition shows or music competition shows like, um, the pop-culture dominant for a decade "American Idol," we are surprisingly entranced with "The Voice," which premiered to great hype on NBC.

Succumbing to some of that hype and a healthy dose of curiosity, our plan was to sample the first few minutes and then move on to other pursuits which would surely be more productive. Somehow, from the very first notes of "Crazy" being performed by Cee Lo Green, country’s Blake Shelton--who just entered our consciousness recently on an awards show--Maroon 5’s Adam Levine on drums and the diva-licious Christina Aguilera taking center stage with her multi-octave range, we were unexpectedly hooked.

That's saying a lot, since we are not necessarily fans of any of these artists either. No dislike for any of them, but perhaps somewhat mild pleasure on occasion of seeing their performances--or mostly the default position of neutral when it comes to how we feel about the foursome.

Obviously, we are not alone in our newfound fandom. The show delivered the strongest ratings of a season premiere on a major network since "Undercover Boss" premiered on CBS after the Super Bowl, garnering huge numbers for the Eye.

Up against the tough competition of two other shows where music plays a huge part, "Dancing with the Stars" and "Glee," the Mark Burnett-produced "The Voice" racked up 11.8 million viewers.

The first twist in "The Voice" is that contestants are judged only on their voice and not on their looks. They each come out on stage and perform with the four coaches’ backs turned toward them, and whoever likes them presses a button to turn around the chair. That’s where the drama comes in--maybe no one will spin around to face the performer. It happened. Sadly. Because viewers get invested in each candidate with a pre-taped clip about them and where they came from.

The competition was peppered with close-ups of hands about to press the “buzzer,” then recoiling, then hitting it to spin around.

If more than one coach turns around, the power structure shifts and it's up to the contestant to choose whose team he or she will join as the contest progresses. Some have a natural and predictable affinity for one artist or the other. A pop singer with a big voice goes with Aguilera, while a country performer--after being told by Xtina that he's a cutie pie and to take off his hat and then his pants--naturally votes for Shelton.

That’s where the rivalry comes in, and it’s heating up between Aguilera and Levine, who was slow to win any contestants to his team in the first episode. Cee Lo and his infamous colorful costumes are a charismatic presence while Shelton seems to hang back a lot. All seem to be having a great time. Meanwhile, the contestants’ families are backstage with host Carson Daly cheering them on, and then shown after their performance, mostly with glee.

After each coach has eight members on his or her team to mentor, they will teach them how to best develop their sound. The real competition starts when the "battle round” pits performers on the same team against each other, and it's up to their coach to decide who stays and who get shown the door.

Viewers get to choose when the team’s top singers square off against each other live. The winner will get a $100,000 prize and a recording contract. We already have some favorites--like the woman who performed Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit" and went with Levine, who admired the creativity of her adaptation--but we’re reserving judgment until the teams are finalized.

Just like any song, there will be high notes and lows, but "The Voice" is definitely one catchy tune.