“The Voice” and “The X Factor”: Looking at Vocal Competition in a New Light

Let’s face it–no matter how hollow the reward, no matter how cliché the production, no matter how asinine the direction–vocal competition shows aren’t going anywhere. They make a ton of money and attract a ton of viewers. Even though American Idol isn’t at its peak anymore, the vocal competition genre is alive and well and probably will be for some time.

The Voice. | Promotional photo courtesy of NBC

Now that there appears to be a feud between FOX’s The X Factor and NBC’s The Voice, it seems like a good time to dissect the television genre of singing competition and figure out which show is at least shining a good light on it. Media outlets love a good fight, and NBC and FOX seem to be playing up the rivalry between the two shows by even distilling it down to a Britney vs. Christina debate.

The fact of the matter is, this “rivalry” is yet another publicity stunt in an attempt to garner more viewers for the two shows. It really doesn’t exist, and it shouldn’t. One of the shows far outstrips the other in terms of tone and talent. One of the shows actually attempts to showcase great talent from across America and actually aims to facilitate the growth of new artists instead of promoting a mixture of hero worship and public humiliation. That show is The Voice.

Don’t get me wrong, The Voice isn’t revelatory television. It doesn’t elevate vocal competition to any loftier level. But for all its flaws, The Voice is charming TV and definitely a more worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours a week than watching The X Factor.

First off, The Voice SCREENS THEIR TALENT. There aren’t any crazy people wearing chicken suits going up on stage for us to laugh at. No one is going up there just to get beaten with a stick. Even when contestants don’t get through to the next round, no one is being humiliated.

Second, the advent of the blind audition is clearly The Voice‘s biggest triumph. Even with the super cheesy production design and giant red swivel chairs, the fact that the coaches (yep, coaches, not judges) can’t see and judge the talent right off the bat creates excitement. Additionally, the coaches aren’t put in a position of absolute supremacy. They have to convince the talent to work with them and then work with the talent to develop their act (to what specific extent it’s hard to tell). It’s a much warmer philosophy than the traditional “come out and impress the judges or they’ll say you sound like a dying animal.” Our predilection for hero worship has made these arbitrary vocal judges on shows like American Idol into celebrities.  But really, they say nothing substantial or constructive to these singers and still go on to cash huge checks.

Also, at this point it’s become pretty clear that winning one of these shows is no guarantee of fame or even marginal success. Isn’t it a better deal to go on a show that promises to at least pretend to give a shit about an artist’s growth a little bit?

The X Factor pretty much adheres to the American Idol template. In fact, it follows the formula to the letter. It’s hard to spot differences between the two shows other than the various faces behind the judges’ table. You can play up Britney Spears’s presence all you want, but at the end of the day, we’re essentially watching Idol 2. By the nature of that formula, The X Factor delights in public humiliation. Goofy, “aren’t these singers awful?” montages abound. Schadenfreude might be fun for a bit, but do you really want to watch normal people be set up for national humiliation? (Although, this is the Internet, so I’m sure some of you do.)

The Voice isn’t perfect. The ever-present sob story packages are there behind each contestant. Carson Daly looks like an alien lizard trying to relate to regular people. But its core philosophy breaks from the tiresome vocal competition formula, and that’s worth something.

And if none of that has convinced you, how about this? The Voice (for the rest of this season at least) has Cee Lo Green with a cockatoo on his shoulder. How can you refuse that?

One thought on ““The Voice” and “The X Factor”: Looking at Vocal Competition in a New Light

  • October 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    So true! Not to be mean, but the X-Factor is hokey. Its attempt to make the judges seem interesting and all-knowing is just kind of annoying. The guys at The Voice take themselves less seriously with the effect being the audience tends to take them more seriously. It is also more entertaining to watch The Voice even if we know most of these singers are never going to be heard from again — even the ones that win.


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