Ten Reasons to Watch NBC’s The Voice
For those unfamiliar with the show, to better read this article, this is the way The Voice works:
A singer comes out onto a stage, and the four Voice coaches have their chair backs to the singer. The singer has 90 seconds to give the coaches a reason to turn their chairs. Once one coach turns his or her chair, the singer is no longer an auditioner, and becomes a contestant on the show. If more than one chair turns, the coaches have to woo the singer onto their team. There are four teams. Adam Levine and Blake Shelton have been coaches for all eight seasons of The Voice. Previous coaches have been Cee-Lo Green, Shakira, Usher, Gwen Stefani, and the season eight returning coach, Christina Aguilera. Each coach is looking to get the best singers on his or her team, because when a singer on a team wins first place, the coach of that singer also gets to claim victory for the season (it’s a deserved shared-victory–read on). A further explanation on the chair turn: all auditions are blind, so the coaches–so-called, because they coach, rather than judge–will turn their chairs when they like what they hear; this means the initial decision of whether to bring someone on the show is based on how someone sounds, rather than how s/he looks.
Funny side note: The coaches often joke about the fact that chair-turning gives them vertigo. Even if the coaches do not turn while the singer is auditioning, they have to turn to face the singer afterward, and these moments are often the most heart-warming. Still, I would want to puke after about two red-chair-whipping auditions.
Reasons to watch:
- Reality schmreality. This is not your average reality show, and not anything like the back-biting, mean-spirited nonsense that goes on in shows like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars or, heavens, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. If an artist on The Voice does not receive any chair turns from the four coaches during the audition, the coaches will give advice to the singer and often invite the person to come back and audition in a later season. Three singers who have made it into the top fifteen in the last three seasons have been returns from previous seasons where no one turned for them. One of these return singers, Jake Worthington, made it into the top three in season 6. Another, Anita Antoinette, made it into the top 10 in season 7. When a singer returns, if s/he has taken the coach’s advice (which they do, because it is good advice), s/he receives a four-chair turn.
- The rhetoric of winning. The coaches often have to fight for a singer (I said woo before, but the banter between the coaches could be construed as fighting, especially in season 8), which makes the show both rhetorically interesting and hilarious. Each coach has his or her own style of coaxing a singer on to his or her team. Because season 8’s auditioners’ decisions were based more on pre-conceived determinations of who they would “go with” if they received a chair turn (Blake has won four times, so he had to say very little to earn his team in season 8), previous season arguments have been the best. When I say argument, I mean it from a professional stand-point as a composition-rhetoric instructor. For instance, Blake Shelton often takes the down-home tact of “I’m from near there”–even if the singer is from Cleveland–or “I know what it’s like to do that”–usually referring to something having to do with a farm or struggling or singing in the same bars. As Adam Levine said this season: “Being from a place” is not an argument. There is no denying, however, that Blake is a good coach. He has had a singer in the winners’ circle ever since I began watching the show. Season 7 coach, Gwen Stefani, was all about clothes and style, and she would get up on the stage and sing. She relied almost entirely on being Gwen, who is an amazing, sweet person I don’t think many of us watchers expected. She also had spangly t-shirts made for her team. Christina Aguilera (seasons 1, 2, 5 & 8) has her clout to back her; she’s also feisty, pulls the female-card when necessary, and chooses her arguments largely based on who she is talking to–as her season 8 teammate, Sonic, says, “She was spittin’ game at me.” Christina also has yet to win, and she often tells auditioners that they are so good they could help her win. Imagine being a no-name from Nowheresville and being told that you could help one of the best female singers in the business win something. A potato sack race, even…That would convince me. Pharrell Williams is the nice, Yoda-like, hippie of the group. In spite of his 11 Grammys, he never refers to his success, except when he says, “As a producer, I know what to do with that voice.” Pharrell tells people that he is searching for the unique, the individual; he wants to embody what The Voice is about. He is also the King of Kind Deed. Even if an auditioner does not receive a chair turn, he will get up and hug the singer, sing with her, or give him heart-to-heart advice. It’s touching. Adam Levine is the whole package. If I could have someone like Adam in my class, I would use his arguments as anchor papers. He has been in the business for so long, and he has his own clout as the lead singer of a band that has lasted twenty-one years. Adam’s pitch, however, is usually to immediately start coaching the person on stage, which makes the person feel like s/he is already on his team. His pitches are also based on who he is talking to, and they aren’t overly charming like Blake’s, feral like Christina’s, or soulful like Pharrell’s, but the people who choose him feel like he will take them all the way (out of the four finalists in season 7, three were his, so this is not a spurious feeling he engenders). Until season 8, Adam was referred to as “The King of the 4 Chair Turns!” because his arguments were so rhetorically sound.
- The coaches, part one. The primary coaches are all Grammy Award winners who continue to tour, as well as produce and record their own music. They aren’t has-beens, wanna-bes, or shoulda-beens. The Voice is like the Make a Wish Foundation for singers. Since the show focuses on making singers the best they can be, who better to coach them than people who have evolved their own voices and styles over the past 20+ years? During Sawyer’s (the-one-to-watch) blind audition in season 8, my mom said, “He should have picked Adam. Adam would know exactly how to get him to where he needs to be.” I replied, “Adam could coach a baked potato. He’s a great coach.” Most anyone who has watched previous seasons would know, though, that no matter who the auditioner picked, it would be a good choice. These coaches are no joke, and they pour their decades of personal experience as struggling and successful musicians, in addition to their blood, sweat, tears (so many of the coaches actually cry with happiness when they see one of their teammates execute a tremendous performance) into their teams. The Voice is so inspiring to watch that I sometimes use the coach’s advice in my classes. Developing and owning one’s singing voice is much like developing and owning one’s writing voice. So, not much of a stretch.
- The coaches, part two. There are sub-coaches/mentors who come in during Rounds One and Two of the Knockouts to give additional advice to the contestants. The mentors have been legends like Lionel Richie (S8), Bill Withers (S3), Graham Nash (S6), Stevie Nicks (S7), Diana Ross (S7), Cher (S5) and Reba McIntire (S1), and also more modern pop icons like Chris Martin (S6), Michael Bublé (S3), Mary J. Blige (S3), Kelly Clarkson (S2), Miranda Lambert (S2, S6), Edd Sheeran (S5), Taylor Swift (S2, S7), Ellie Goulding (S8), and Nate Reuss (S8). I totally thought Taylor Swift was a ball of fluffy teen angst (despite her age) until I saw her on The Voice. She helped so many contestants–literally–take off their shoes and relax. There are other coaches who are just as amazing and iconic, but to see them all, go to Wikipedia. In seasons 6 and 7, Blake has his own secret sauce (and, no, I’m not referring to the vodka in his Starbucks cup–which I’m still not sure is a joke or not). In those seasons, Blake invited entire bands to be mentors during Round One of the Knockouts: The Band Perry and Little Big Town, which is genius. Four coaches when all the other teams had two…I tip my hat to him.
- The Battle/Knockout Rounds. Despite the name, the Battling pairs are encouraged to support one another throughout the process. During the Battle Round, the primary coach chooses two singers (or, in some cases, a band or duet vs. another singer) to sing-off in some of the most beautiful, lovely and non-battle-like situations. In season 6, Adam commented that Usher’s battle pair’s performance of Madilyn Paige and Tanner James, “…was like watching two golden retriever puppies frolic through fields of wheat during the sunset. Cute overload — so romantic and sweet.” Carson Daly called it “The Notebook, Part Two.” After the battles, the contestants hug and congratulate each other, even though, as the name implies, the battle eliminates one of the contestants. The Knockout Round was introduced in Season 6, which makes the show more exciting, and it offers singers more chances to be stolen.
- The Steals. This concept was introduced in Season 3. If one of a battling/knockout pairs is not chosen, the other coaches have the opportunity to claim the losing party for their teams. This results in more wooing. My favorite part, however, is the reactions of the loser’s family, as well as the battle/knockout winner. It is so encouraging and yet devastating when one of the battling pairs is just as happy to win the battle or knockout as s/he is sad to see the other contestant lose. Steals are a second (sometimes a third) chance for a singer. Usually, coaches will wait for another coach to let go of a favorite, hoping to steal someone they lost during the auditions or the Battle Round, or the coaches will steal someone they’ve come to admire during the process, but coaches are also sometimes so moved by a performance, seeing in that performance something they could cultivate, that they spend their steal(s) on inspiration. In season 6, Josh Kaufman–the winner of the season–was Usher’s steal from Adam Levine. Season 7 steal, Craig Wayne Boyd, was also the season winner (granted, Blake let him go during the Battle Round, Gwen gave him a make-over, and Blake stole him back during the Knockouts, saying, “It’s like when you break up with someone and she comes into the bar looking hotter than ever…I got my girl back!”). Steals allow hope for another battle or, better yet, the Live Rounds. In season 6, one contestant, Tess Boyer, was stolen so many times she worked her way through three of the four coaches. Steals also allow contestants chances to become more of who “they are meant to be as an artist”–as Blake says so often–and to be with the coach that fits them best. Initial arguments might be convincing, but they sometimes entice a singer on to a team that does not best suit his or her talents.
- The Backstory. Though not all of the artists are given a chance to share their back-story, the ones the audience does hear are fun and/or heart-breaking. Some artists gave up on their dreams of being singers to become parents or caregivers. Others only sang in church or school choir, in high school or college musicals, or in acapella groups before coming onto The Voice. Still more have endured loss of friends, family, livelihood, sight, and hearing, and yet they continue to live their dreams and their passion. As the auditioners (and, later, the contestants) share these stories and that passion with their audience and coaches, the audience builds a connection with them. These are ordinary people with extraordinary dreams, and they provide hope for those who only choose to follow their dreams after watching the show (many of the auditioners are avid Voice watchers). The person on The Voice who really takes control of the backstory is host Carson Daly (who often gets zero hours sleep between hosting the Late Night Show in New York and hosting The Voice in California). In Season 8, he has been traveling to certain auditioner/contestant home towns to add to the pathos. If an auditioner is returning, he will show auditioners their past audition when they received no turns, and the advice they received after the audition. This past season, he showed an auditioner an encouraging message from his seventh grade singing teacher. Carson is also always in the booths with the auditioners’ families to celebrate when a chair (or chairs) turns and condole with a family when a chair does not.
- The audience role. The Voice has a phone ap. In this ap, the audience can hit their buttons (turn their chairs at home) and steal and vote in the battles. While this initial participation is new (Season 8 new), and imaginary (nothing the audience does until the Live Rounds makes a difference), it makes the show interactive. Prior to this ap, the only audience participation was during the Live Rounds. During the Live Rounds, the audience Tweets, Facebooks, texts and calls to vote on a contestant. As of season 7, The Voice ap allowed for Live Round voting, as well. While I credit Neil Gaiman and my cstweetup pals with my Twitter involvement, The Voice really deserves the credit.
- The music. The Voice singers’ songs are placed on iTunes, which is another voting method. The audience can buy the songs we like, and the singer gets extra votes if their song makes it into the iTunes top 100, which they often do. The Voice music is also fairly diverse. So, my mom could download Kat Perkins’ version of “Magic Man,” originally recorded by Heart, my step-dad could download Craig Wayne Boyd’s version of “The Old Rugged Cross,” and I could download most of Matt McAndrew’s songs (he’s nicknamed “The Sexiest Nerd in America,” but he has the showmanship of a seasoned performer). I also continue to follow Luke Wade on Twitter. He’s performing and rocking the pants of men and women all over the nation (watch his version of “Let’s Get it On,” and you’ll see what I mean). Season 7 also introduced a new twist, which was for the final four artists to record new music. Matt McAndrew wrote a song “Wasted Love,” which Season 8 contestant Sarah Potenza sang during the second Knockout Round. The finalists, then, already have purchasable music in the iTunes top 100 before they leave the show. Non-finalists go on to live their music, too. It’s, no doubt, extremely profitable for the show, but I like to think of it as symbiosis.
- Shevine and the coach performances. I generally loathe smashing names together, like Brangelina, Bennifer, Khlomar, TomKat, Robsten, and the list goes on, but I make an exception for the bromance between Blake and Adam. On-screen, they can be vicious, but the tomfoolery (like when Blake gave out Adam’s phone number to all the Twitter fans and Adam retaliated by dumping manure into Blake’s truck) usually ends with a kiss and they make up. While many (most?) reality shows center on contestant cat-fights, the coaches provide the drama, hilarity and hijinks. One auditioner told Shevine that they reminded her of Tom and Jerry. I also dislike shameless self-promotion, yet I make an exception for this show. The most surprising and lovely coach performance was Adam’s “tryout” with “Piano Man.” The coaches sing together as one group and as duets. Instead of seeming like promotion of the coach’s talent, it makes the coaches seem more united. Their performances also remind us why they deserve to be coaching other artists. There also has to be a shout-out here to The Voice band. My goodness, they are talented. Awesome job security with this show, but they never get to be stars.
This is the only show I watch on television. I have to go over to my mother’s house to watch it (which has increased the amount of time I spend with family, reason 11 for me), and sometimes I go straight from work to the North part of town to watch it. The show gives me some hope that there are good people in the world (and in the record business) and that inspiration and kindness can intermingle with commerce (reason 12?). But don’t take my word for it. I just gave you ten (12) reasons to go out and try it for yourself. You don’t even need cable to watch it. I guess that’s 13 reasons. Unlucky. 14: Carson Daly also reveals a kind and funny side as the host of the show, all while efficiently running the show’s social media. Given how much Twitter is a part of the show, this is no small task.