Hey, football lovers! Do you wish you were watching a reality-singing competition so you could have something to connect with other humans over, but you just can’t find one that fits your needs? Is American Idol too wholesome? The X Factor too self-serious? The Sing-Off too devoid of spinning chairs? Well, NBC might just have the thing to relieve your crippling alienation.
The Voice is a weird little show, as these things go, but it’s not without its charms. When it debuted last spring, it was the first to make a plausible attempt to grab the crown from reigning champ American Idol, but it seemed to go in knowing it was a losing battle. It got in its digs from time to time (mostly from Adam Levine, who at one point claimed to have “never heard” a fairly well-known song by Idol alum Adam Lambert) but it was reminiscent of the class clown tripping the school bully in the hallway and then bolting, more so than a rival bully of equal size stomping out onto the playground. The result was a laid-back, goofy vibe that made for pleasant, if not totally compelling viewing. Though some took issue with the ever-changing format after the initial, (and often quite fun) blind audition stages (I wasn’t among them—I thought the battle rounds were awkwardly entertaining, if not exactly something you’d immediately want to hit up the iTunes store for) the show had a diverse talent pool and a sly irreverence that often felt like a breath of fresh air after 10 seasons of Idol.
I was interested to see whether or not that same attitude would hold, now that The Voice was NBC’s new favorite child (in the way that if all your other children died of typhoid fever, the last one left would probably have to be your favorite.) The network has a lot riding on the success of this second season—would its cracks begin to show under the pressure? Sure, in our buzzed, well-fed, post-Super Bowl haze we could all laugh at Cee Lo’s cat and Christina’s weirdly unsuccessful Adam Levine slams (she accuses him at one point of trying to be like Justin Timberlake, something that I don’t think would ever show up on my long hypothetical list of things you could make fun of Adam Levine for). But was this lark of a première enough to hook people for a season? I’m not the kind of person whose enjoyment of these shows depends very much on the level of talent on display, but was it there tonight? Perhaps more importantly, was there a story or a personality that I wanted to see play out over the next couple of months?
It wasn’t looking good through much of the hour-long (Hour-long!) première. You had your homeless single dad, your Taylor Swift wannabe, your crunchy, bluesy girl. The Voice attempted to draw a line in the sand and send the message that, contrary to popular opinion, this wasn’t Glee and they weren’t going to greenlight every oddball gay kid who walked through the door, sending home painfully nervous, bespectacled ukelele strummer Daniel Rosa without any takers. (I don’t want to sound like I delighted in Rosa’s failure, and I felt bad for the kid even while rolling my eyes at him, but wouldn’t these auditions be even more fun if the contestant had to leave the stage immediately if nobody turned for them?) Chris Mann, a weirdly smarmy would-be Il Divo member, struck a chord with Christina when he said he was done trying to “shrink” his voice (Translation: “I tried so hard to not be talented, and you can see how that turned out! Waa-waa!”) and made the cut as well.
Time was running out, and I wasn’t finding much to hitch my wagon to. The saga of Tony Lucca was a great argument for how ineffective the traditional dead mom/deadbeat dad/homelessness/acoustic guitar/contemplative walking shots method is next to good old fashioned humiliation. Lucca, a former fellow Mickey Mouse Club alum of Christina’s, who has spent his post-child-star days basically not being Christina, Britney, or Ryan Gosling (though he did date Keri Russell for eight years and his cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Devil Town” was featured quite memorably on Friday Night Lights, so he’s not exactly a failure, either) was part of a clear attempt at orchestrating a dramatic, Tweet/Facebook/Linked-Inable moment. Christina would hear him sing, press her button, and we’d have our readymade E! News clip when she recognized her childhood friend. Maybe she’d even come up on stage and give him a hug—wouldn’t that be so cute? And he’d of course wind up picking her team, and the must-see-TV narrative would be that these former MMC castmates were tearing it up together on a show that’s sort of like American Idol but not.
Except that while formulating that surely winning scheme, the producers forgot to account for how totally out to lunch Christina Aguilera is. And—surprise! Even after pushing her button and finally laying her eyes upon Lucca’s patchwork Newsies hat (’cause he’s poor-ish, duh,) Christina still didn’t recognize him. She praised his singing with a patronizing smile and more reserve than usual, as he nodded, smiling expectantly, waiting for it to click—and it never did. It wasn’t until after he had left the stage that Christina finally remembered who he was and rushed backstage to have basically the saddest conversation ever. And though it was embarrassing for Lucca to decide to go on a reality talent show, and it was dumb of Christina to forget who he was, she really overdid it when she told him that “Britney always had a crush on you.” I can’t be positive, but I’m pretty sure she made that up on the fly in a desperate attempt to find something that would cheer him up, pretty much admitting that the most happiness Christina Aguilera can offer someone is the fact that she used to know Britney Spears.
I’ll be interested to see what happens to Tony (who ended up picking Team Adam) mostly because his entire audition seemed like such an unplanned hiccup in how this show was supposed to go. And hiccups are what make a show like this worth watching, especially with NBC devoting so many of their resources to ensure that this show is everything they need it to be. The Voice has won a fair amount of goodwill from me for only being an hour tonight, but it needs to throw a few more Hail Marys (topical pun only possibly intended) in order to cement its status as a serious candidate for Idol successor. I’m rooting for it, but I’m also not about to go out and order 2000 commemorative caps, y’know?
- In addition to the Xtina XonneXion, Tony Lucca also used to play in the house band on Last Call With Carson Daly. I know The Voice is honest (without being explicit) about the fact that most of their contestants haven’t exactly just fallen off the turnip truck, but… really?
- I guess that this is a good time for me to tell you guys, in the interest of full disclosure, that I interned for Carson Daly in 2007. I will try not let my gratitude for the free bagels that basically kept me from starving that summer affect my assessment of his hosting skills.
- That said, those of us who grew up with TRL will probably feel like Daly desperately needs something to hold in these backstage interviews. He looks lost and frightened without a microphone to protect him from all the singing weirdos.
- “Everyone’s the same color with the lights off!” Cee Lo’s job on this show is to just sit back while Adam and Christina bicker, then occasionally shout “SEX!” at the top of his lungs.
- Shocking confession from Adam Levine tonight: “If selling a car means winning The Voice, then I sell cars.”