TV Fanatic Face-Off: The Voice vs. American Idol

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Ratings for American Idol are dropping. Ratings for The Voice season two premiere were the highest for a non-sporting event in six years. In other words:

Even if they don't go head-to-head, it's totally on between these two singing competitions, both in the ratings game and on TV Fanatic. In the following face-off, staff writer Steve Marsi takes on editor-in-chief Matt Richenthal, with each critic choosing a side.

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Steve Marsi: A Vote for The Voice

The major criticisms of NBC's The Voice are that it's a gimmicky knockoff of similar programs, and caters to also-rans instead of singers with bona fide star potential.My response is twofold:

  1. The gimmick works.
  2. So what?

Comparing The Voice to American Idol is only natural, as the singing competitions air new seasons simultaneously and battle one another for viewers. Yet the two are polar opposites, and The Voice clearly exists to fill a void left by Idol on several fronts. It's succeeded brilliantly in that respect so far, establishing itself as a far more entertaining show.

Let's start with the coaches. Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera are all contemporary and very likable stars. They play off each other well and seem to enjoy every second they're together. Taking things seriously enough to keep viewers invested, but keeping it light enough that it doesn't become ALL about the judges' squabbles (see Factor, X), the Fab Four form a genuinely engaging panel.

The coaching aspect makes for an entertaining format, with the stars competing for the talent and then grooming the talent to compete against the other talent. While a bit confusing at times, with its wild cards, sudden death battles and point system, it's definitely original and keeps the show from growing stale.

American Idol can't say the same. For a show that boasts to create stars, it's becoming a misnomer. None of Idol's top-five recording artists by album sales are from the past five seasons. This is because it's formulaic, predictable and mostly filler.

From its blind auditions on, The Voice lives up to its title by being all about the artists, embracing the fact that many aspirants are so different when it comes to their genre, age, appearance or sexual orientation. Idol is cookie cutter drivel; The Voice is ambitious, different and the singing competition version of The Island of Misfit Toys. That's not a negative, but part of what makes it so cool.

Many have tried and failed to gain traction in the industry before, but why is that a bad thing in a business where people need that second, third and fourth chance. Idol wins for glitz and glamour, but you can give me The Voice's unique crop of vocalists and Cee Lo's swiveling spaceship chair any day.

Matt Richenthal: An Idol Argument

I'll give The Voice its blind auditions. Those are far more entertaining than the dreaded opening rounds of American Idol, which feature forced sentimentality; an influx of awful singers; and this year, in an all-time low, a cliffhanger of an episode based on a 16-year old girl falling off the stage.

But fast forward to when the competitions truly take off and it's no contest. The Voice focuses on a panel of contemporary artists all trying to sell records and make headlines. It makes the same mistake as The X Factor, placing this quartet front and center in contrived fights and on contrived teams. It just does so with far better actors than Simon Cowell's mess of a program.

There are wild cards, battle rounds, weird-looking chairs, some kind of points system. Come on. Why make something so basic into something so convoluted?

Give me a show that simply places aspiring singers on stage and asks them to - gasp! - sing. The judges shouldn't have a stake in the proceedings, they should simply watch from their unbiased (regularly-sized) chairs and give an honest opinion.

I also just prefer Idol's judges to those on The Voice. Steven Tyler is delightfully wacky, Randy Jackson is the straight-shooting veteran and Jennifer Lopez is downright gorgeous.

Has Idol suffered from a lack of major stars over the last few years? Maybe. But, quick, can you even name the season one winner of The Voice?!? Idol is responsible for an Oscar winner, multiple Grammy winners and more platinum records than viewers who watch Carson Daly's late night talk show.

When I watch the top 12 perform on Idol, I'm confident the next big music star is among them. When I turn on The Voice, meanwhile, I'm merely confident that I'll be blinded by Cee Lo Green's outfit.


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