The Voice has enhanced its reputation as the coolest music contest on television with the recent addition of Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong as a mentor.
Which isn’t saying much. It’s not really a television genre filled with cutting edge talent and musicianship. They’re karaoke contests – powered as much by looks and popularity as ability and ground-breaking talent.
Even the most successful of the genre, American Idol, will never be mistaken for cutting edge. It’s aimed squarely at tweens, moms, and Disney Radio. Guitars are allowed, but discouraged. New songs are a no-no. And when you win, you also lose most of your artistic freedom (which may explain why many Idol runners-up go onto great success).
Idol’s addition of Jennifer Lopez and rocker Steven Tyler as judges didn’t alter this image much. Sure, Tyler has a crusty edge, but when was the last time he had a hit? Your grandparents probably have a copy of Toys In The Attic.
And don’t get me going about The X Factor, that cynical Idol rip-off. After a mediocre season, that show added Mouseketeer Britney Spears and Barney The Dinosaur sidekick Demi Lovato to the mix. But not so much for their musicianship but their notoriety. They’re tabloid headlines who sing a little. And maybe not at all live.
Bringing us back to The Voice, which arrived late to the party last year with a gimmick (those spinning chairs), and a judging panel known mostly for music. Okay, Christina Aguilera is tabloid fodder. But recent hit-makers Cee-Lo Green and Adam Levine (Maroon 5) were a bit of a shock. Do they really want to do reality TV? Won’t that hurt their musical rep?
Not so much, apparently. Perhaps the show’s format of helping and advising the artists – rather than reshaping them – has struck a chord with viewers. Or perhaps we’ve reached that point in time where reality TV isn’t so embarrassing for A-listers. I mean, even Dirty Harry has a reality show these days.
Maybe. Though one must still wonder about the motives of Billie Joe Armstrong, who will advise Aguilera’s stable of performers. Like Levine and Green, Billie Joe is still viable artistically. Ain’t he worried about his rep? Doesn’t the punk rule book oppose commercial fluff like prime time reality TV?
Not to mention the obvious question – is screamer Armstrong really going to be advising people on singing? We love his angry style but…really? How’s that going to work:
“That was great, honey. But this time, could you bug your eyes out more on that last note?”
Perhaps Billie Joe has mellowed and does, as he claims, love The Voice. I mean, a few years ago I couldn’t have conceived of a Green Day musical. But there it was, American Idiot, on Broadway.
As for The Voice itself, hiring Billie Joe is a savvy move – further setting the show apart from its competitors. It also taps into a previously unexploited audience of grown-up punkers and those into 1990s nostalgia. Not sure that’s a lot of people but….
The Voice is now more clearly the tough music contest, the real MUSIC show, with real musicians and judges who make new music. It’s also still a contrived TV game show, and a rip-off of two dozen shows that came before it. But if Billie Joe likes it, maybe it’s not so bad?
The Voice returns for its third season this fall.