There's plenty to like about The Voice, starting with its premise--despite all the eventual focus on backstories and sob stories, NBC found four finalists with genuinely strong voices, compelling stage presence and kernels of real musicianship. It let them sing songs written after 2000, unlike American Idol, constantly stuck in stodgy or schlocky decades past. It didn't bully or mock them, or even make a spectacle of them--two out of The Voice's final four singers were openly gay, but NBC neither made this a punchline nor scuttled around the topic like Idol did with Adam Lambert. Performance for performance, The Voice brought one of the strongest showings we've heard from singing competitions in years.
But you don't have to be a perfectionist to notice that some things about The Voice just aren't working. We've mentioned plenty in our recaps, but if you're just now joining us, here are ten ways The Voice can polish itself up as it prepares for season two. Got other ideas? Comment and let us know!
1. FIRE CARSON DALY. PREFERABLY WITH ACTUAL FIRE.
Behold, the vacuum at the center of The Voice! Once an episode, Carson Daly was guaranteed to do one or most of the following: introduce the night with a shrug and a frown, mumblemouth his way through listless announcements, make corny dad puns, get caught on camera napping and/or fanning his paychecks. (We said "most," not "all.") Let him go back to arguing with Fred Durst. As for who should replace him, it's easy: just pull the first person who walks by the NBC studio after you read this. It'll be guaranteed to be a huge improvement!
2. FIRE ALISON HAISLIP, OR AT LEAST KEEP HER OFF THE AIR.
Every time the camera cuts to the room where Alison shills and trills, I consider calling the major U.S. datacenters and asking them to kill their part of the Internet. I know it's 2011. I know you're trying to start a global conversation or stay hip or fill up 10 minutes per episode. But it always goes like this: Alison finds the blandest people asking the blandest questions, and the contestants look like they'd rather be anywhere else.
3. STOP CHANGING THE RULES EVERY SINGLE EPISODE.
American Idol's voting system might get snarled every week in phone-line snafus and accusations of phone-company conspiracies (as if the telecoms haven't got enough of those), but at least it's easy to understand. You call. You vote. Most votes wins. How The Voice works depends entirely on which week you're watching. The coaches get to pick! Then the coaches get to pick a few people! Then America gets to--well, vote, or buy, and they save one! Then America gets to only half-save someone after the coaches go 50-50! Then it's all up to America, except only half the performances count! It was just as confusing to be shuffled through all these changes as it was for you to read all that. Next time, streamline.
4. LET THE CONTESTANTS PICK THEIR OWN SONGS.
Tori and Taylor Thompson might not actually have called Cee Lo an idiot, but turning a couple of country girls into an Andrews Sisters act was bound to be a spectacular failure, in every sense of both words. Ditto for Xenia being forced to step into Jessie J's blustery void on "Price Tag," or Lily Elise getting a Fergie song, or countless other examples. Notice how whenever a contestant insisted on making the call, that their performance turned out to be really good? There's something to that.
5. HALVE THE RECAPS, DITCH THE PREVIEWS.
What's the best way to kill any suspense about your show? Well, have votes be partially based on public iTunes charts, for once. (It's like a legitimate DialIdol!) This was worst during the auditions--because they were pre-recorded, NBC's producers got to show viewers every big moment--Nakia singing "
Fuck Forget You" in front of Cee Lo! Rejected auditioners getting "surprise" second chances! That penis comment!--sixteen times and several days before it happened. But even the live episodes reminded us of what went down days, weeks, sometimes even months ago. By the finale, it's safe to say that everyone watching either knows who Javier, Dia, Vicci and Beverly are or won't be much enriched by a one-minute recap reel. Just let them perform! And while you're at it....
6. FIRE ALL THE BACKUP DANCERS.
Mimes! Mimes! Mimes! And soldier boys, and NKOTBSB castoffs, and children, and whatever the "Big Girls Don't Cry" troupe was supposed to be doing. At best, they're pointless diversions from the singing; at worst, they completely distract you. This is The Voice, not The Frantically Flying, Close-Up Limbs Of A Lot Of Strangers Who Aren't Competing.
7. NO ORIGINAL SONGS.
Granted, everything on the finale was better than "This Is My Now," "No Boundaries" or the rest of the warm goo American Idol pours into the world each season, but that doesn't make The Voice's songs good. Watch the final performance night and tell us: would you rather hear Vicci killing "Love is a Battlefield" in warrior regalia or warbling through a Dido reworking? Doesn't Beverly rock out so much better on actual rock songs than pale photocopies? Doesn't Dia sound so much better when singing personal idol Tom Petty than when forced to pole-vault over her vocal break?
8. MAKE THE GROUP PERFORMANCES BETTER, OR MAKE THEM STOP.
A performance that begins with Carson saying "A few hours ago, the coaches decided..." and ends with a pitchy Christina Aguilera note is a performance that should never have existed. Not that group performances are anyone's most anticipated part of singing competitions--see American Idol for several seasons' worth of proof--but when you have Xtina, Cee Lo, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine to work with--when they take the stage, they shouldn't sound worse than the quarter-finalists.
9. CUT THE CREEPINESS.
OK, Adam's introductory penis comment was pretty funny. But then Christina kept verbally undoing everyone's pants, Cee Lo got his teammates naked (at a spa, with towels, but still) and Blake slowly morphed into your creepy uncle. By the time Blake, 35 and just married, hit on 18-year-old Casey Weston, I felt like joining a convent.
10. LET THE COACHES GIVE REAL FEEDBACK.
Jon Caramanica argues in The New York TImes that The Voice is fundamentally cooperative where Idol is fundamentally adversarial. It's in their very names--where Simon, Paula and Randy (and Kara, and Ellen, and Steven, and Jennifer)'s job is to judge the contestants (albeit on an ever-slackening curve), The Voice's coaches serve as mentors and would-be BFFs.
But The Voice is also a show where the coaches dump half their team every week. Do we really think that Cee Lo's going to keep up the spa dates, Adam'll extend permanent invites to his house, Blake Shelton will continue to profess his love or Xtina will even pick up the phone for their teammates a year later? The teams aren't the coaches' personal passel of besties--they're contestants on a singing competition that's presumably supposed to make them grow into better musicians. But it's hard to grow when the only feedback you get is an endless bath of "I loved it!" and "You've got the best voice I've heard, ever!"
Of all our suggestions, this is the easiest to implement (we don't seriously think Carson's ever going to go away) and the one that'll improve The Voice most. It's already proven its ability to find good singers and treat them well--next time around, why not try molding them into great singers? Use the word "pitchy" if you must (although "sharp" and "flat" are excellent alternatives). Coat things in compliments if you absolutely need to. But be realistic--even the greatest voice is going to sound shaky sometimes. When you say you love every performance, that love starts to mean a lot less.