Hard to say who won the fourth season of "The Voice" Tuesday night — Blake Shelton or 16-year-old future country star Danielle Bradbery — so may as well go ahead and say both won. For the third time out of four seasons, Blake Shelton pulled down a winner, and it now appears that TV's best music competition series is a country music competition series. (He not only had Bradbery, but the Swon Brothers as finalists; and just to be fair, while Blake now dominates, he did win the second season with an R&B singer — Jermaine Paul — not a country one, and last season's winner was Cassadee Pope, so this "'Voice''-is-going-to-the-sticks" theory certainly has evidence to the contrary...
There's a touch of sour grapes on my part here, too. I called for a Michelle Chamuel victory yesterday, and confidentially predicted one, assuming — or perhaps hoping — that all those iTunes downloads and "Voice"-generated singles on the country charts by Bradbery wouldn't be enough to overcome the passionate fan base Chamuel and her coach Usher had built up over this season. It was clear Bradbery was going to win, but I held out in the naive and vain belief that surprises can still happen on big competition series like this one.
Bradbery was and is terrific — a clear, clean voice that hits notes with clarity and strength — while her tearful crowning was a nice moment last night. The "Voice's" youngest ever winner — from Cypress, Texas, closed the show with the song that helped her win it Monday — "Born to Fly."
The two-hour finale was packed with energetic finalist performances, and a diverse enough array of guest star appearances to indicate that viewers hadn't accidentally stumbled upon the CMA Awards: From Pitbull to Cher (Cher! Oh that hair! Oh that look of deep puzzlement on Blake's face when she sang some new song .?.?. Priceless!) and Bruno Mars and Christina Aguilera, and OneRepublic, and Nelly .?.?.
But the fact remains that "The Voice" now has a country problem, and by association so does NBC. Certainly nothing wrong with country, but as the show and King Blake more clearly establish a claim on country, that drives other viewers and fans away. The calculus then becomes starkly simple: As they depart (and viewership was indeed down slightly this season) that automatically expands the voting base of those who support country. A snowball effect then sets in, making it virtually impossible for the show to crown anyone other than someone with a country twang.
"Idol" has vainly battled such voter bias for years, to the point now where it's effectively conceded that those who do most of the watching and voting — middle-aged viewers who live in the south — will control the show's outcome, and not the judges. Kids and teens have largely abandoned “Idol,” which is now grasping at straws and the future.
Does the same fate await "The Voice?" Well .?.?. as productions go, "The Voice" is superior in too many ways to count here, so it has that advantage at least. But country has clearly taken over and NBC now has to think hard and deep about what that means for the future of the franchise.