What Idol Could Learn from The Voice
So, now that the inaugural season of The Voice is over, and their first winner – Javier Colon – has been crowned, what will other talent shows, namely American Idol, learn from it?
Probably nothing since they will arrogantly think it has no bearings on their own show, as Randy Jackson already tried to call it “gimmicky,” even though its domination on itunes these past few weeks is nothing to sneeze at. Indeed, I actually think the whole concept of judges/coaches serving as “mentors” is designed to spill over into Simon Cowell’s new X-Factor show for next fall season. Although from what I understand, that show will be much more mean-spirited, so may Idol won’t learn a thing.
I do think they should be paying attention for if they were to go head to head with The Voice, Idol just might lose (and I say might because there is one thing Idol has over The Voice that might give it the edge in ratings, which I’ll explain later).
1. Put the emphasis on vocal talent!
I’m not surprised that Javier eventually won because, at the end of the day, he clearly had the best “Voice.” I don’t think he had the best performances (that would be Beverly), the best emotional delivery (that would be Vicci), or the best vocal phrasing and nuances (that would be Dia), but if we’re just going on vocal strength and power, Javier had this over the others. And, because of that, it’s great to see him triumph.
Now, compare a Javier to a Scott McCreery. *crickets*
2. Maintain diversity!
It’s great to see the show put on display such a diverse group of contestants – both in terms of music, race, gender, and ethnicity. There was a time Idol used to look like this, so what the heck happened these past few seasons?
Psst, I’ll tell you what happened. Over time, they stopped looking for the best vocal talent and started looking for a potential record seller, as if anyone could tell right off the bat who’s going to “sell big” or become a “superstar.” How about you pick the most impressive singers, and from there, let America decide? What happened is, once they looked for “marketable” contestants, they stopped focusing on vocal talent. Once this happened, America had no choice but to choose the “least offensive” in terms of the pool of mediocre talent, and as a result, most voters chose those contestants who they could relate to (which is why “diversity” started to fade away). There’s a reason why the Melinda Doolittles, Fantasia Barrinos, and Ruben Studdards advanced as far as they did back in the day. They had the vocal power and performances to back them up. They also had the ability to “connect” to the regular American voters. We need more vocal powerhouses to shake up Idol, period. Idol needs to get back to its roots and stop looking for “marketability.”
American voters don’t get behind folks who look like Top 40 material. There’s a reason why Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Pitbull, and Nicki Minaj would never win on Idol. Beyond the vocal “talent,” they’re not “regular folks.”
Find the regular vocal powerhouses for the show and let America vote, and then let the labels who sign them decide how to market them later.
3. Pick Mentors who could really coach amateur talents toward more professional performances
This was a key component in the way The Voice contestants delivered so strongly. Much attention was given to create engaging live performances, something sorely missing on Idol, or something terribly disparate in which some contestants get lights and back-up choirs while others getting nothing, or worse, a soundcheck technical glitch! Geez, after all these years, what does Idol’s money go into? Certainly not into their sound system, and definitely not into song royalties, which leads me to:
4. Pick current songs, or pick new old songs!
How many new seasons must I be treated to “Alone” or “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” or the same old tired Motown songs on Idol? When can we hear a current song, or if not a current song, maybe a song not yet performed on Idol? That was one thing I did like about Casey Abrams this past season. Anyone who could bring in “I Put a Spell on You” or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (no matter how screechy it eventually sounded) gets a pass from me. But The Voice was mostly fresh in the way we heard current songs from the past 10 or 15 years or new twists on old songs. In a singing competition, the onus on contestants is to make a song sound like I hadn’t heard it before. Which finally brings me to:
4. Pick great original songs!
What a concept! Having your finalists sing original songs written by songwriting hit-makers! I honestly enjoyed all the new singles from The Voice’s finalists: Javier’s “Stitch by Stitch,” Vicci’s “Afraid to Sleep,” Dia’s “Inventing Shadows,” and Beverly’s “Lovesick,” all sounded radio-friendly and worthy of a singer’s strengths. Don’t even get me started on Idol’s “I Love You This Big,” the winner’s “coronation song.” I mean, it’s like Idol goes out of its way to be cheesy. In The Voice, we finally get a singing competition that actually treats singing as a legitimate talent and worthy of competition and airtime.
5. Do a Battle Round!
In this singing competition, I do like that concept of pitting singers against each other on The Voice, but I will admit it got a bit repetitive. I do think, on Idol, it should be something done for Top 4 and definitely for Top 2 shows. Have the contestants engaged in a sing-off duet. I can tell you now, had David gone up against Cook in a real “boxing match” of vocals, puh-lease! He so would have delivered a genuine “knockout.” At least, it would force voters to take seriously the judges’ charge that it is a “singing competition.”
Having said all this, I do think Idol soars in one area where The Voice still lacks:
Personality, personality, personality. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I think the contestants on The Voice came off rather well, and it is interesting to see how they all bonded with their coaches/mentors, but I do like that Idol gives you a whole season to really get to know and follow a “favorite.” David had me at “Hello, Gorgeous!” even before he opened up his mouth to sing “Heaven.” There’s a reason I love “Hollywood” rounds on Idol – the most “organic” part of the show.
Despite their many talents, I still don’t think I know Javier, Vicci, Beverly, or Dia all that well. Perhaps this would have skewed the votes even more, perhaps not. But, I would like The Voice to develop this aspect in their show much more, rather than make it all about the coaches, which – to be honest – they already skewed the vote because, IMO, after the initial phase of their selecting contestants just based on “the voice,” in the subsequent shows, they let other factors distract them from that concept. If they didn’t, do you really think Adam would have chosen a Casey over a Jeff? Just saying.
I’d rather “America” choose contestants for “other factors” rather than have coaches do this. Heck, I’d rather “America” had gotten to choose who won the “battle rounds.” I do think The Voice’s coaches got too much say in the final analysis.
But then again, it is nice for a show to be upfront about that – rather than manipulate an entire season to get what they want – because had the “professionals” not weighed in, contestants like Beverly and Vicci might not have made it as far. I mean, we do see what “America” chooses when they don’t get enough “professional guidance,” as they most certainly didn’t this season on Idol: we got a Scotty McCreery, who was not even the best of the guys, much less the best of the Top 12 finalists all around.
Give or take, The Voice must be commended for showcasing vocal talents in edgier and far more interesting ways. Now, if Idol could actually get back to showcasing strong talents like it used to, we won’t be “plagued” with these “lame” winners that we’ve been receiving of late.