how to maneuver and work my voice," Usher says. "That didn't happen in an
audience setting. It happened very intimately, so to have the ability to teach
the world a little bit of what happens is really cool."
He has confidence ("I play the game to change the game") but acknowledges he'll be learning on the job. "Blake and Adam have won the show, so they know how it works." He and Shakira are "newcomers. We're 100% watching what has happened in the past, using what good is there, and what new things organically come out" with their talent.
A coach's work is nuanced, Colombian singer/songwriter Shakira says.
"Most of the contestants have great voices, so I'm not there to teach anyone how to sing," she says via e-mail. "I think the best thing I can do for them is share my experience, use my critical eye to help identify areas where they need improvement and be there to support them."
She says she was focused "on finding unique voices, singers who could emit passion and emotion. (But) you really have to be willing to derail a little from your initial strategy, so you can be open to a moving performance and just believe in your gut."
George Varga, music critic for U-T San Diego (formerly The San Diego Union-Tribune), says change cuts both ways. "I think there's the obvious curiosity factor with two (coaches) coming in. The inverse of that is there was a curiosity factor with Idol with the new judges, and that turned out to be a fairly sizable bomb."
Varga favors The Voice qualitatively over Idol, but that could be a function of The Voice's relative newness. "I think (the coaches) have offered expertise in a useful way. ... But if the gauge would be the winners of the first three seasons, can anyone but the most die-hard fan of that show name them?"
(Those would be Javier Colon, Jermaine Paul and Cassadee Pope. "I think Cassadee's chances of becoming a country star are through the roof," says Shelton, her Voice coach.)
Too much of a good thing?
NBC could use some viewer curiosity. The network rose to No. 1 among young adults and No. 2 with all viewers in the fall, only to drop off a ratings cliff after The Voice (and Sunday Night Football) concluded in December. In recent weeks, it often has ranked No. 4.
"I think we didn't realize how important (The Voice) was until it went away," says Brian Hughes, who specializes in audience analysis for ad firm Magna Global.
The Voice easily outpaced another fall singing competition, Fox's The X Factor. It also appeared to have a halo effect, helping shows that followed it, such as Revolution, Go On and The New Normal, he says. Both comedies have slumped since The Voice left, and Revolution returns tonight (10 ET/PT) after a three-month break.
With the ratings downswing, NBC's gamble of putting The Voice on twice in a single season could pay off, although there is risk of oversaturation. Hughes expects the numbers to drop off from the fall (13.7 million, down 9% from post-Super Bowl-fueled Season 2), as other singing competitions have slipped, but still be robust compared with other NBC programs.
The Voice also will be squaring off in its own "battle round" against the king of singing contests, Idol, in its 12th season. Although they're on different nights, they're often compared because they share a genre.
Idol has won two previous spring competitions, but Fox's former juggernaut is down this season, and there is the chance The Voice could surpass it, at least in advertiser-coveted young adults.
The big question is whether Idol's ratings drop is the result of "Idol fatigue or genre fatigue," says Brad Adgate, analyst for ad firm Horizon Media. In the end, both Hughes and Adgate expect Idol to remain on top.
Burnett, Telegdy and The Voice's coaches downplay any competition, praising Idol for its performance over the years. "I always say Idol is a venerable piece of television people love," Telegdy says. "In many ways, it changed American TV. We consider ourselves a different kind of show."
As they seek to differentiate their show, however, they deal some glancing blows. Burnett talks about The Voice being able "to take the meanness out. There's no humiliation of these singers. There's also no meanness between the coaches."
Telegdy says he isn't bothered by Idol's status, one Idol producers and Fox executives often mention, as the only music competition to create stars. Its biggest, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, come from its early years, when ratings were higher and the music industry less fragmented, he says. "The fact that someone at American Idol thinks it's their job to point out how many records someone's sold is the last gasp of desperation."
Making a star would be great, Levine says, but that shouldn't stop people from appreciating what the singers have done.
"Winning The Voice (or) American Idol is a big deal. People become obsessed with the next step. To be quite frank, The Voice hasn't totally figured that out yet, and I hope we do," he says. "However, certain things deserve to be celebrated regardless of what happens after the fact. The truth is, there's been some amazing television and some amazing singing, some incredibly compelling performances on our show."
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