By now those of you who watch reality singing competition shows (moi aussi!) are probably revelling in the excitement of not just one, but two pretty good ones on your TV these days. Don't know about you guys, but I found X-Factor painful. It took all of the most obnoxious qualities of shows in this genre, used them, and then threw its own over-the-top ridiculatta in the mix. There were so many ill-used tropes that I can't even list them all here. Feel free to rag on it as much as you wish in the comment section with my full support.
I use X-Factor as my example of how not to do a reality singing show because it excellently highlights all the things American Idol and The Voice are doing right. I admit that I was not on the Voice's hype train last season. I watched it out of crush devotion to Blake Shelton and to see the multitudinous ways Xtina tried to make us believe she's just a real gal (she's never let me down). In general, though, most of its debut season, like a scrubbier version of X-Factor seemed too forced to me -- namely the disingenuous jump-cut editing of the blind auditions to the rapid-fire elimination of contestants to TRL's Carson Daly -- and I wasn't very emotionally attached.
This season, though, they've worked out the kinks, and the result is a much smoother, more enjoyable ride.** Where on Idol I want to see and hear less from the judges, the opposite is true on The Voice. Judge chemistry has reached new levels this time around, and now that they've all got a season under their belts, it's fun to see the various ways the judges are playing the game. Nothing exemplifies the fun, light feel of the season so far for me like Cee-Lo Green, who, as a friend so wisely pointed out to me one time, somehow looks a little like Verne Troyer, stroking his Dr Evil kitty while doing confessionals. LOVE.
I can't say that Idol has really done anything to reinvent the wheel this season, but last week's group round and Vegas performances made me really excited about what's to come this season. I recently read an interesting article by Mark Harris in Entertainment Weekly, arguing basically that The Voice is more in touch with viewers in the way that initially made Idol a huge success, and that Idol has lost its touch. While this was an easy thing to say after the terrible first two Hollywood Week episodes of this season's Idol (you remember: a girl fell off the stage and we had to see it about 17 times in an hour, and then we got nary a note of singing after group night drama), last week's Vegas episode packed in about 50 above average to excellent singers singing clever arrangements of songs from the 1950s. It also gave us plenty of heroes (Erika van Pelt; Lauren Gray; Philip Phillips), villains (Randy; "Cowboy" Richie), and aggressive hipsters (looking at you, Reed Grimm) to give us people to root for and against. The Voice is certainly more bent on welcoming a truly diverse range of singers, and is more tolerant and open about different lifestyles, something Idol should learn from, but generally speaking, Idol can be darn good TV when it wants to be.
Also, and this may just be my own projections, it seems like Idol has fewer precocious teenagers left than it did at this point last year. Yay!
Now, because I like to make lists, here are the contestants from both shows I'm most looking forward to this season. It's too early to go negative, so I'll wait until Idol whittles it down to 24 for that. At this point in the season, it's a little hard to remember all the people I like on The Voice, so these are just a few standouts. More to come.
Tony Lucca (Team Adam): I totally remembered him from MMC and, oh yes, Malibu Shores!
Sarah Golden (Team Cee Lo): The "ugly girl" edit she got was super weird. I think she's got a great set of pipes and an artist vibe. Plus, she sang my fav Gaga jam, "You and I".
The Line (Team Christina): For some reason, this is one of the auditions I remember the most because they remind me of the awesome country duos that came out of the depressingly short-lived CMT series Can You Duet (from which came Joey and Rory, Steel Magnolia, and the Stellas). I hope we get a lot more of their harmonies.
Baylie Brown: Loved her audition in Galveston, but am a little worried about why they're keeping her under wraps during the crazy pre-semis. I hope it's because they expect to drop a "where'd she come from" bomb in the semi-finals.
Hallie Day: After going full-on "Backstory Idol" with her during the auditions, they haven't showed her singing much in Hollywood. I'm sort of hoping she'll make it to the top 24 and wow us all in the first round.
Lauren Gray: Yeah, so they gave her the Carrie Underwood edit when she auditioned. That's not her fault! Her controlled, raspy instrument is so up my alley. She handled herself hilariously with "Vocal Coach from Hell" Peggy Blu to then give this performance. Mmm, girl.
Heejun Han: Controversial. I like his voice (even though he needs some work), and I like his personality. It's not often we get that much sarcasm past the cheesy humor-prone Idol editors. I hope he sticks around for a little while.
Jenn Hirsch: This performance was sick. "Georgia on My Mind" is quickly becoming the new "Fallen" of the Hollywood and semi-final rounds, but what Jenn did with it was undeniably amazing. She came out of nowhere, but has emerged as one of the best voices on the show.
Skylar Laine: It was the attitude and stage presence she brought to this solo performance that made me sit up and listen. There's a maturity about her that I think Lauren Alaina could have really learned from last season. In Vegas she was in the group that sang one of my all-time favorite songs, "Dedicated to the One I Love", and as much as I tried to resist, I found myself completely sucked into that performance. She's on my watch list.
Aaron Marcellus: I thought he was the best thing about this Vegas performance of "Sealed With a Kiss". Idol needs his voice.
Erika van Pelt: She has been amazing from her audition when she sang another one of my all-time favs, Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow". Artist alert.
Philip Phillips: You guys, I'm in love. Along with 15 million other women. Yeah, his performance antics are a little spazzy, but he gets so into the music that it's hard to fault him for it. There's something really wonderful about his little-boy-at-Christmas love for playing music, as well as his ability to turn me into a puddle with a :15 second solo in this performance. I'll be really disappointed if we lose him early.
Jessica Sanchez: When she opened her mouth in this version of "It Doesn't Matter Anymore", I almost did a spit-take. Like, what the WHAT?! She and Deandre Brackensick are CHILDREN, but they and Candice Glover sang the ever lovin' funk out of that thing with attitude. I would download that performance.
**That's so something I would say about a new pair of running shoes. I'm running in the K-Swiss Blade Max Stable these days, by the way, guys, and they are a much smoother, more enjoyable ride.