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‘The Voice’ Still Looking for the Most Elusive Prize of All: A Star Being Born
October 5, 2018  | By Alex Strachan  | 1 comment

Never mind the B notes and C notes. It’s the 15th season of The Voice, which means there are 14 previous winners, all vying for the music industry’s attention. And yours, too, assuming you’re the kind of music buff hoping to find new favorites to round out your playlist.

Fourteen previous winners! You need more than two hands to count them. And while Voice coaches Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Jennifer Hudson and last season’s winning coach Kelly Clarkson can name previous winners as easily and spontaneously as they can their own songs, many — if not most — longtime Voice viewers may be hard-pressed to name even one. Clearly, we’re not in Lady Gaga territory here.

And yet . . . The Voice is holding its own in the ratings, though as always with ratings, it depends who you read. The Voice fell last week, according to TV by the Numbers, whereas the same show “proved potent” and carried NBC to a win on the night, according to Broadcasting & Cable. All returning series dropped Tuesday from one year to the next, according to Deadline Hollywood, “except for NBC’s The Voice” (2.1 rating viewers aged 18-49, the only demographic that counts, industry insiders would have you believe; 10.1 million viewers overall, equal to the previous week’s season premiere).

No matter how you choose to look at it, anyone expecting an American Idol-on-Fox-style ratings crash with The Voice is bound to be disappointed.

Fifteen seasons in, it remains one of TV’s most-watched, most talked-about (on Twitter, anyway) programs.

The blind auditions — my favorite part of the season — continue Monday and Tuesday, with the first of the so-called battle rounds to open the following week, on Oct. 15 and 16.

The Voice’s producers continue to add new elements, in a bid to experiment and to mix things up. Some work — The Comeback Stage companion series for YouTube, in which pop artist Kelsea Ballerini serves as The Voice's "fifth coach," mentoring six artists who auditioned during the blind auditions but did not make a team. And some don’t work — the “block button," in which each Voice coach can prevent another coach from adding a singer to their team. Each coach is allowed just one block during the course of the blind auditions, but still: As add-ons go, the Block seems gimmicky, mean-spirited and not in keeping with the positive vibe of the show.

And one thing that marks The Voice apart from so many other reality-competition shows is its gentle, positive vibe and sunny world outlook. That’s what makes it so appealing to the average viewer looking for something to watch on TV. The uglier, meaner and crueler the daily news gets — and I can never recall it being uglier, meaner and crueler than it is right now — the more The Voice provides a safe harbor for viewers who want to be uplifted and feel better, if only for a moment. In the blind auditions especially, all things seem possible — and not just because of the sad-story clip reels that precede those auditions Voice producers want the audience to pay special attention to. Affirmation on The Voice begins before a singer has even sung one note.

This season’s freshman class boasts some seemingly genuine talent. Promising, anyway. Each of the four coaches would seem to have a contender. Adam Levine convinced 13-year-old Reagan Strange (above) to choose him over Blake Shelton after the Memphis teen earned a glowing notice in Rolling Stone of all places with her soulful cover of Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s Meant to Be.

Chicago native SandyRedd (right), 35, who put a promising singing career on hold to look after her young son, earned a rare four-chair turn with her soulful, distinctive rendition of Bishop Briggs’ River. “I hit my button knowing it was a long shot,” Shelton told her, “but you deserve it. I get it. I know I’m a country guy. Jennifer's sitting right there.”

SandyRedd did not choose Hudson, though — in the kind of surprise that makes The Voice compelling TV, she opted to go with Kelly Clarkson instead, a decision, she said, made from her gut.

And there was first-night ingenue, 13-year-old Kennedy Holmes (below), who jumped at the chance to work with Jennifer Hudson after the teenager’s stirring cover of Adele’s Turning Tables prompted Adam Levine to tell her — and the audience watching at home — “Very, very rarely does someone come around that . . . reignites our passion for what we do. And to hear you sing today did that.”

Levine and Shelton predicted that Holmes would win the show — but this was the first night of the auditions, and if The Voice has shown anything over the years, it's that, once the show gets to the audience-vote stage, there’s no accounting for voters’ tastes when it comes to choosing a favorite.

The Voice's final pick has favored young over old in recent seasons, which makes sense given that younger singers — last year’s winner was just 13 — have their entire life, and career, in front of them.

The thornier question — why hasn’t The Voice produced a single star of note in 14 seasons so far — is harder to pin down. It probably won’t escape many viewers’ notice that two of this season’s four Voice coaches are former American Idol contestants, a not-so-subtle reminder, perhaps, that despite its eventual ratings crash, Idol did produce stars.

Will The Voice ever live up to its promise of making winners a star? Earlier this year, in an inflammatory heading, The Atlantic accused The Voice of peddling an empty promise of the American Dream. Atlantic senior editor Julie Beck senior editor admitted that while she loved the blind auditions — she’s not alone there — she has yet to make it through an entire season. She usually sticks through both the battle and knockout rounds, but then she bails during, “The bloated live shows, where couch potatoes actually get to vote for their favorite singers.”

I know the feeling.

“At that point,” Beck continued, “it’s just American Idol-style voting in broadcasts padded with backstage fashion and performances by the coaches, and oh-so-many commercials between contestant performances and the unique energy has faded. . . . the auditions are so compelling because they create moments that feel undeniably real in the way reality TV rarely is.”

Again, I know the feeling.

An even more damning indictment, possibly — given the source — came from one-time Culture Club frontman Boy George (below), an occasional coach on the UK version of The Voice. The music industry is about more than a reality-TV show, Boy George told Australia’s Courier-Mail in an interview.

“What I say is, ‘Don’t think about winning the show. Think about winning in life. Think about winning beyond this, because this is just a moment’,” he said. “If you’re born to do this nothing is going to stop you.”

Times have changed since Culture Club filled clubs with their music, Boy George admitted.

“It was more simple then. We made a record, went to radio, toured, and the songs had a longer shelf life.

“It’s more brutal now. It’s not just about music now, because we live in the age of the brand. There are a lot of artists that have built entire careers out of one hit and have gone on to do other things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with music. This is the age we live in.

“The odd thing about that is that somebody really, really talented can fall to the wayside and somebody that has a lot of tenacity and not a lot of talent (can go far). This is the irony of current pop culture. But that also keeps things exciting.”

It is at that. As these blind auditions rounds show, The Voice remains one of the most exciting options on primetime television. Just don’t expect the new Lady Gaga to emerge at the end of it.

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Idle American not only gave few real stars to sell,it helped ruin pop music by putting talent into little boxes that only Clive Davis could develop. Meanwhile,kids abandoned that model.The other talent shows-all of them-have developed Zero Stars. Kids,the horse manure element to grow talent into stars,don't care about any of this anymore. They are not involved with the process of a talent show on broadcast TV. So many choices to fill up their day. Even pop music beyond these contrived talent searches falls distant to phones and self absorption. Our teen grandkid currently binging on "Criminal Minds" via Netflix. This will be replaced by something else- on Netflix. School,sports,friends-no time for a talent show on broadcast TV. Clarkson is all too aware of this. Next year she gets an Ellen-lite show before Ellen for a two hour block of stuff kids will not care about. Kelly will wrap herself around a fanbase from older days way back in the 2000s.
Oct 5, 2018   |  Reply
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