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‘The Voice’ Finds Itself, And Some Stars, Too

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“The Voice” never explicitly pitched itself as the anti-“American Idol,” but coming as it did on the heels of the first season of “Idol” without Simon Cowell and in advance of the fall arrival of Mr. Cowell’s “X Factor,” it had a narrow window of time to justify its existence, to demonstrate that it could do things that “Idol” could and would not.

Quite by accident, it achieved that with Wednesday’s finale, which celebrated two constituencies historically underserved by “Idol.” Two of the four finalists are major-label refugees: Javier Colon, onetime neo-soul footnote, and Dia Frampton, of the pop-punk band Meg & Dia. The other two finalists,Beverly McClellan and Vicci Martinez, are openly gay; this is notable because of how silent the “Idol” universe has been about the sexual orientation of that show’s contestants.

In the end, the second chance beat out the big break. Mr. Colon was the winner, and Ms. Frampton placed second: two professionals given a chance to be professional once more. Each, though, is fighting in a different weight class from that he or she is used to.

Ms. Frampton, whose outfits became more flapperlike as the season progressed, traded the transgressive sass she displayed in Meg & Dia for understated soft-rock balladeering, delivering covers with intelligence but no edge.

Refashioned as a gentle light-rocker, Mr. Colon, who released two albums of tender but tepid soul on Capitol, added flair to his renditions of songs by Coldplay and Sarah McLachlan.

Of the top four — better than most top fours on “Idol” — Mr. Colon was the most predictable and benign. Ms. McClellan and Ms. Martinez, powerhouse singers and raucous performers, were this season’s true breakout stars.

On Tuesday’s final performance show, Ms. Martinez’s duet with Cee Lo Green, on Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield,” was the standout, with the two squaring off in warrior outfits while surrounded by what could have been the preschool dance troupe from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” Ms. McClellan’s astonishingly restrained version of Christina Aguilera’s ‘ “Beautiful,” sung with Ms. Aguilera, wasn’t far behind.

In the way that dog owners come to resemble their dogs, or vice versa, the celebrity coaches of “The Voice” ended up with contestants who are personality and attitude matches: Ms. Martinez, an unpredictable firebrand like Mr. Green; Ms. McClellan, a robust belter like Ms. Aguilera; Ms. Frampton, with the polite confidence of Blake Shelton; and Mr. Colon, a feather-light slickster like Adam Levine.

How these pairings were formed during the show’s compact season — only about two months from the first round of auditions to finale — often had the thrill of the random. Structurally, “The Voice” has been a frenzy, with rules and segments that appeared to be cut from whole cloth each week or culled from the discard pile of could-have-been “Idol” improvements.

Blind auditions! Face-offs in a boxing ring that were really just duets! Early-round performances with Broadway production values! Some rounds allowed for days of voting; others, just one. Some eliminations were broad and brutal, wheat sent off with the chaff, and other contestants overstayed their welcome. (Sorry, Thompson sisters.)

Most important, “Idol” is at root an adversarial show, judges versus contestants. “The Voice” offers collaboration between the aspirants and the judges, who are also mentors, participating in the weekly song selections and arrangements, and singing with their protégés in the final competition episode. This is a no-hurt zone. The coaches went out of their way not to say anything negative to the contestants, even those coached by others.

Those judges are at different stages of their careers — Ms. Aguilera and Mr. Levine on the decline, and Mr. Green and Mr. Shelton on the rise — but they all remained invested throughout the season. That meant that on any given week, “The Voice” deployed more legitimate talent than “Idol” would, even in its most recent, star-heavy season. Without the coaches as anchors, “The Voice” would have slipped off the rails several times. (There’s no need, though, to continue the garish all-judge performance numbers next season — no one deserves those.)

Mr. Green, as it happens, is a mystic poet in addition to being one of the most vibrant and dangerous singers in contemporary soul. Ms. Aguilera had more of a sense of humor than she’s ever shown before, and Mr. Shelton was simultaneously wide-eyed and cheekily curmudgeonly. By contrast, Mr. Levine revealed only that he has narrow tastes — he admitted to not recognizing hits by Rascal Flatts, Adam Lambert and the Script, sung by the contestants.

Presumably Mr. Levine will have acquired a radio before next season. And for a show that thrived on twists, there should be room for more. How about letting the coaches steal contestants let go by their fellow coaches? Or having viewers vote for singers they can’t see, just as the judges do? And how about giving the host, Carson Daly, squarer than ever, not nearly as comfortable as he is on his late-night show, a massage before each episode?

“The Voice” initially relied heavily on its blind audition gimmick to stand out — who wouldn’t want a spinning chair so you could enter and exit conversations at will? — but the show sustained interest to the end. In making Mr. Colon the show’s winner, viewers didn’t just vote for the voice, they chose the most obvious pop star of its finalists,something even “Idol” doesn’t always do. For now, “The Voice” is just a new model for proving the old rules, but it’s risky and surprising: it could be much more.

Source: NY Times

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