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The Voice’s swivel chairs and coaches deliver a surprisingly good anti-American Idol

The swivel chairs made their first appearance last night on NBC’s hyped singing competition The Voice, and from the coaches to the contestants’ talent, the show worked in surprising ways. As some delicious icing, it took a big swing at American Idol when Frenchie Davis auditioned, explaining how the Fox show ditched her because she masturbated on a web site called Daddy’s Little Girls.

The Voice started badly, with the coaches singing “Crazy,” the kind o thing Simon Cowell would have called “indulgent.” And there was way too much talking about how much better the show is than its competition because it ensures that ugly and hot people won’t be judged by their looks. We’ve seen the ads; get to the damn auditions. And once the auditions began, the sad-story intro packages were way too familiar, just as the scenes of contestants opening up a letter to learn that they’d been selected to audition were played years ago. (Why do you think there’s a camera in your living room, dumbass? To reject you?)

But once the singing began, the swivel chairs facing away from the contestants, the show found its groove. First, with no really shitty contestants, all of the auditions were fun to watch. At the very least, talent minus stupidity separates The Voice from its competition. The contestants already seem stronger than American Idol‘s remaining finalists.

What really worked, though, were the four coaches. Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton seemed at home in their swivel chairs, and have incredibly strong chemistry. They’re playful and passionate, and did a solid job of articulating what they liked. I could do without the congratulatory comments toward one another, and the compliments they give to contestants when they explain why the rejected them, but that’s a small quibble.

Mostly, it was just fun to watch who would respond to a contestant, and the swivel chair is like the opposite of the X on America’s Got Talent, so it’s positive instead of negative–sometimes they seemed to swivel around just because they were into the song and wanted to engage with the performer. When more than one pushed their button (lighting up an awkward “I want you” sign), the contestant got to pick, and these moments didn’t provide quite the same level of entertainment as Shark Tank negotiations, mostly because the contestant was freaked out about having big-name artists fighting over them.

Backstage, Carson Daly wasn’t a bad host, but hasn’t really earned the right to be as involved as he wants to be, hugging contestants immediately and being too awkward and too present. Less is more. Speaking of, let’s be honest: Alison Haislip is totally Big Brother season one Internet adviser Regina Lewis, but I’m not sure she’ll survive season one–though #TheVoice did trend on Twitter, so maybe they’ll give her some credit for that.

Carson and Alison need some work, but overall, it seems like NBC has a hit on its hands, a watchable show that I didn’t fast-forward once.

Here’s the other thing The Voice has going for it: speed. Auditions end after next week’s episode, and then we go to mentoring and the awesome boxing ring sing-offs as the teams get cut in half. The entire show will all be over two months from now, and that kind of speed and efficiency can only help differentiate it from Fox’s aging but somewhat reinvigorated behemoth, which drags its ass from January to June. If it can remain distinct through its run, The Voice will do well.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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