Pop Rocks: Five Reasons America's Got Talent and The Voice Are Better than American Idol
I hate American Idol. I want to get that right out of the way up front to be clear that I don't have some obsession or even passing general interest in talent competitions that air on TV. Over the years, I've never really cared for any of them for numerous reasons, the most significant of which is that they are rarely about who has the most talent but rather about who can win a popularity contest. Meritocracies, for the most part, these are not.
Juan Carlos teaching Nick Cannon a move or two.
But, Sunday night, I flipped on America's Got Talent to watch Houston's favorite rollerblade dancer take his turn in front of the camera and the judges. After about 40 minutes, Juan Carlos had rolled his happy self off the stage, but I strangely wanted to keep watching. My wife did as well. Then, during an ad for The Voice showing off shiny new judges Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams, I remembered there might actually be two talent shows on TV I kinda like and I began to see similarities between the two.
And make no mistake, there are things I despise about them too like how they run roughshod over auditions, their attempts to constantly pull at heartstrings with practically manufactured stories and way too much face time for the stars. But what AGT and The Voice also manage to do is keep me entertained and I think I've figured out why.
They don't promise hyper success.
The very name American Idol connotes a level of fame and fortune that has rarely been achieved by any of it's contestants and winners, yet the constant mantra of "finding a star" is repeated over and over. Neither AGT nor The Voice do that. Most of the acts that grace the AGT audition stage are quite understated in their desires -- outside the grand prize, of course. Few imagine a career as the next mega celebrity instead just wanting a regular gig in Vegas or Branson.
The same goes for The Voice, where it is literally all about a contestant's ability to sing and capture a moment. Sure, they would all love to find big time success if they can, but, and maybe I'm reading more into it than I should, they sure seem more realistic about their chances than the starstruck Idol hopefuls.
They take all comers.
One of the most refreshing things about The Voice is the fact that they blindly sample singers initially. All they get to do is listen, the way it used to be before the dawn of MTV. Who cares if the singer is fat or old or weird looking? This isn't about watching music, but about hearing it. AGT takes this to the extreme pitting jugglers and dancers against singers and magicians. It's part sideshow, part variety show.
The advantage this gives both programs is a certain freshness and originality that cannot be matched by AI. Who wouldn't want to watch a contortionist followed by a 12-year-old girl who sounds like a black gospel singer? Why wouldn't you turn that chair around when you heard a pitch perfect voice, even if it is attached to a 50-year-old truck driver? It makes for compelling TV and genuinely interesting story lines.