Is "The Voice" the Next Big Thing?

By Andy Argyrakis | senior editor,
Posted: Wed, 06/01/2011 - 14:57

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The premise behind NBC's new reality show “The Voice” is admirable and even courageous considering the music industry’s age old tendency to underscore actual vocal talent in favor of dashing looks from dolled-up girls and suave guys. As the title implies, the talent search starts with a blind audition in front of judges/vocal coaches Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine (Maroon 5) and Blake Shelton, who choose contestants for their respective teams based exclusively on vocal prowess. From there, they shape, suggest and mold the contestants prior to a live performance finale in which singers will compete for a record deal with Universal Republic.

A fresh twist on a fan favorite formula
The idea of a reality show leading to a record deal or national platform is nothing new, with the music-centered “American Idol” or the variety-styled “America’s Got Talent” serving as just a few examples that paved the way for “The Voice.” But what sets the latter apart is primary emphasis on a performer’s actual capabilities, rather than their dress code, color, height or weight. That isn’t to say the other shows out there are resistant to those who don’t fit into the perfect superstar package, though in the case of “Idol,” it’s impossible to forget Simon Cowell’s comments about Mandisa’s weight. Though she’s since forgiven his cruelty and shed several pounds, the question remains: Can a voice really succeed without the look?

According to “The Voice” and a slew of additional evidence from modern day pop culture, the answer is a resounding “yes,” and though the series just launched last month, its track record overseas is especially impressive. Originally dubbed “The Voice of Holland,” the original holds the top spot in the Netherlands and is responsible for record ratings. In addition to the plotline making for appealing television, it’s also prompted speedy record sales, which is a trend that’s likely to continue in the States, especially given other programs’ track records.

Average Americans weigh in
Right now in America, the veneer is being stripped away from celebrity culture given their endless barrage of media coverage, which is increasingly laden with tabloid-styled reporting. In place of that previous glow comes a newfound attraction to average folks, as demonstrated through a multitude of current mediums. Take for instance “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which may have just wrapped its finale taping, but was actually known to score some of its highest ratings when the charismatic host was at her heaviest.

In the sitcom world, “Mike & Molly” is one of the highest rated comedy shows right now, even with a plot that centers around an ordinary, middle class and somewhat sedimentary couple. And look at “The Biggest Loser,” which finds folks competing to slim down and being rewarded with some pretty serious cash (not to mention empowering millions at home in the process).

In other words, Middle America wants to achieve the dreams that were previously reserved for the “pretty people” or Hollywood types, but in all of the above cases, proved to enthusiastically support those who mirror their own aesthetic and values. In the case of “The Voice,” what single mom, handicapped viewer or financially-strapped family wouldn’t want to cheer on a contestant in a similar situation?

The verdict
As programs like “American Idol” have proven time and time again, it’s certainly possible to have a career even if you don’t look the part. Just consider second season runner up Clay Aiken, who was always teased for his Barry Manilow-type looks and often speaks out against bullying, but found his debut disc Measure of a Man selling over two million copies. And then there’s that same season’s Ruben Studdard, who was often compared to Luther Vandross at his huskiest and still took home the top prize.

Fast forward a few years to season five when a silver-haired Taylor Hicks swept the show, or even look Oprah protégé LaShell Griffin, who signed with Sony after winning the TV host’s “Pop Star Challenge” in spite of being a stay-at-home mother of five. Yet the most impressive example comes in the plainly clothed, 40-something choir singer Susan Boyle, who didn’t just rise to recognition as the second place contestant on 2009’s edition of “Britain’s Got Talent,” but found her debut disc I Dream a Dream sky rocketing to the number one slot and eventually moving nine million copies!

If a lesson is to be learned from the reality world or even just general television show history, it’s quite likely that “The Voice” may just be what the public is looking for in terms of scouting out today’s talent pool. Besides giving the genuinely gifted a larger platform to rise to the top, the show and its contestants are sure to inspire the masses of like-minded hopefuls along the way. 

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About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, IllinoisEntertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, and He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).

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