The Voice Season 6 starts Feb. 24 on NBC, and it’s a pivotal juncture for the popular musical competition.
Cee Lo Green announced recently that he is leaving the show, marking the first deviation from the original cast of judges. Sure, we’ve seen Usher and Shakira fill in for Green and Christina Aguilera for a season — as they will again beginning tonight at 8pm ET — but this is the first scratch in the program’s armor.
The second scratch could be the recent news that Aguilera is pregnant with her second child. Although NBC would obviously do everything to work around her schedule in upcoming seasons, one might wonder how enthused she is going to be about working while pregnant or with a new baby at home.
Drama aside, the biggest challenge facing The Voice is that it has yet to produce a bona fide star after five seasons. There’s no question the winners have been fantastic singers, but none has carved out a niche in the music industry enough to be considered a household name.
Season 3 winner Cassadee Pope has the crossover appeal to do country and pop music (much like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson have done since winning American Idol), but she is discovering it’s not an easy line to toe. The same could be said for season 4 winner Danielle Bradbery, who is only 17 and oozes with talent. As with all singers, it will come down to finding the right song to record and release.
On a positive note for the show, its latest champion — Tessanne Chin — could be the most accomplished singer the competition has produced. The Jamaican singer has the voice and drive to break through much like several singers have done from American Idol.
Comparisons to Idol are inevitable given it’s the standard bearer for the industry, but it is telling that The Voice has stolen much of its thunder. Not only did The Voice win the Emmy for reality competition program (something Idol has never achieved), it is also drawing more younger viewers.
As a viewer of both programs, I find that Idol is boring until it gets to its top 13 singers (which is coincidentally this week). The original auditions and Hollywood Week tend to drag on way too long, perhaps explaining why it is hemorrhaging viewers and reportedly losing money.
The Voice, on the other hand, is at its best during the audition process — thanks in large part to its chair gimmick and judging the singers solely on their talent. Unfortunately, it loses its fizz once it gets to the battle rounds, probably because the novelty of the spinning chairs is over and the show is reduced to being just another singing competition with no accomplished winners to date.
Where it is able to salvage its audience at this point is largely due to the personality of its judges. Although Green and Aguilera have stolen the headlines recently, make no mistake that this is Adam Levine and Blake Shelton’s show. Their personalities and on-air bromance keep things moving, and it’s no coincidence that they’ve combined to coach all five winners thus far.
Losing Green won’t prove to be substantial in my mind, because he never seemed like his heart was in it at all. He rarely fought hard for a contestant, and he more often than not chose songs for his team members that suited his style rather than theirs. His over-the-top personality and performances will be missed, but he is easily replaceable as a judge.
That begs the question as to what The Voice will do to replace Green. They could go with Shakira or Usher as a permanent replacement — neither boasts an outgoing personality — or they could look outside the box and bring in a fresh face. What it wants to avoid is the revolving door of judges that has doomed American Idol.
It will be interesting tonight to see if Shakira and Usher feel more comfortable with a season under their belts. Either way, the initial focus will all be on the talent of those auditioning. And that is what makes The Voice the most unique and entertaining singing competition on TV.
The Voice Season 6 airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8pm ET on NBC starting Feb. 24.
(l-r) Blake Shelton, Usher, Shakira and Adam Levine during blind auditions in The Voice Season 6: Trae Patton/NBC