The much-ballyhooed battle between NBC's “The Voice” and Fox's “The X Factor” began in earnest last night, with both shows pulling out all the stops as they duked it out head-to-head at 8 p.m.
Who wins? Hard to say. (According to the overnight ratings, they each had a 3.4 rating. However, "The Voice" was only an hour-long episode and "X Factor" was two hours, so when they went head-to-head "The Voice" won 3.4 to 2.7.)
Despite both being singing competition shows with four judges/mentors theoretically searching for the next big star, “The Voice” and “The X Factor” are two very different shows that appeal to very different audiences that will eventually sort themselves out.
Only the most ardent (read, young) music fans – and, you know, people paid to write about all this stuff – will watch all four-to-seven (!) hours of programming both shows will pump out each week.
And that's the point of this battle – as well as the crazed reconstruction over at “American Idol,” that has to set some sort of record for the amount of disruption at a show that is still the No. 1 show on television – young people. The networks are having a harder and harder time prying young people's eyeballs away from the myriad of options available to them and these music competition shows are one of the few things that seem to work, so apparently we need a lot of them now. Um, great.
Let's be honest, though. Neither one of these shows is really about launching a new music star. “Idol” is really the only one that has succeeded, so far, in America and even that prospect seems increasingly iffy.
“Voice” winners Javier Colon and Jermaine Paul are lovely singers, but they haven't exactly set the charts on fire yet, while “X Factor” winner Melanie Amaro has basically been invisible aside from her very, very misguided Super Bowl Pepsi commercial. No, these shows are about creating entertainment centered around well-known judges and unknown talent and they do it very well.
The shake-up over at “The X Factor” seems to have done some good. Britney Spears and Demi Lovato are far more interesting to watch than Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger, though the new additions seem to fall into the same roles as their predecessors – only they're, yes, younger.
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Spears is very Abdul-esque in her benign, kinda-glazed-over critiques of the actual competitors on the show. (“X Factor” like “Idol” still thinks it's funny to throw in some obvious clunkers to mock because they think crushing people's dreams is so hilarious. “The Voice,” to its credit, has moved past that and only showcases people that actually have some talent.)
Lovato fills the Scherzinger role of being current and also sassy enough to stand up to Simon Cowell. And, as she showed last night with the poignant performance of Jillian Jensen, a teen who has been bullied and found strength in Lovato's music, Lovato is also the judge who actually still feels things.
Jensen's wrenching performance of Jessie J's “Who You Are” may be the exception, though, since it even made Cowell almost well up with tears at the sight of the Massachusetts girl's obvious anguish.
Giving Jillian such prominent positioning in the “X Factor” debut is actually another nod to “The Voice,” since the rest of the show is so much flashier and so overwhelmingly pumped-up that the tender moment stood out that much more.
“The Voice,” on the other hand, is pretty much all about tenderness at this stage. Its whole innovation is the “blind auditions,” where the judges pick their teams of singers based on only the sound of a voice rather than a look or on an image. Recognizing this strength, “The Voice” has expanded the “blind audition” process to recruit an astounding 64 singers – 16 per coach – for this season. This will lead to some brutal cuts early on, as they reduce the ranks quickly in the battle rounds, but, hey, that will just add to the drama.
The “Voice” panel of judges will probably need some drama at some point, considering how good-natured they all are with each other now. Sure, there's a lot of friendly ribbing (Adam Levine's impressions of Blake Shelton have gotten really good) but they all seem to respect each other and they are all confident, interesting people. Their banter is engaging enough to fill entire shows. Throw in Christina Aguilera's occasional sexual innuendo and Shelton doing The Moonwalk and you've got yourself must-see TV. Oh, and music, too.
UPDATE: They didn't give her a lot of air time on "The Voice" last night, but MarissaAnn, the 15-year-old who made it onto Team Christina by singing Katy Perry's "Part of Me," is from Ronkonkoma.