By Chuck Barney, Contra Costa Times –
Well, it had to happen sometime. Now in its 11th season, the prime-time juggernaut known as “American Idol” has become a little less juggernaut-y.
Early “Idol” ratings have tumbled enough that it’s possible — but not highly probable — that the Fox reality series could see its seven-year streak as TV’s No. 1 show come to an end. Meanwhile, “The Voice” appears ready to give it a run for the money. On Sunday, NBC’s singing competition will benefit from a plum post-Super Bowl time slot to launch its second season.
Though “The Voice” didn’t approach “Idol”-like dominance in Season 1 — topping out at 14 million and averaging 12 million viewers — it could bring hordes into the tent after the Super Bowl. In addition, there’s a feeling that it’s on the upswing as “Idol” shows its age.
The musical megahits will share the spotlight — if not air dates — for the first time this season, and things already are getting chippy. During the recent TV media tour, both camps let the trash talk fly, and “The Voice” hit the champ with a low blow by hiring original “Idol” Kelly Clarkson as a mentor. Ouch.
With all this tension in mind, it’s time to put the shows through the battle rounds and see who’s really in it to win it:
A longtime “Idol” trademark has been its massive cattle calls in various cities that force viewers to sift through an onslaught of oddballs, lowlifes and deluded wannabes in order to get to the real gems. What used to be fun and amusing now too often feels tiresome and contrived.
“The Voice,” in contrast, cuts to the chase and gets right down to business. Yes, those swiveling red “Star Trek” chairs are a lame gimmick, but at least the show never tortured us with William Hung and Bikini Girl. Advantage: “The Voice.”
Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez brought some new energy to “Idol” last year. However, as the season wore on, the panel’s critiques became too much of a lovefest; we missed Simon Cowell’s straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is approach. It didn’t help matters that Tyler apparently fell into a coma as the live shows unfolded.
Because “The Voice” judges (they call themselves coaches) of Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton compete for talent, there’s more of an edge to the action — and livelier banter. In addition, no one on their panel is as annoying as Randy Jackson. Advantage: “The Voice.”
—Credibility and effect
The “Idol” gang argues that no TV talent show has produced the kind of stars they have, and you can’t argue with them. The list is impressive: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert — they all got their start on “Idol.”
Of course, it’s way too early to gauge the legacy of “The Voice,” but it’s not like the show is blowing us away thus far. Or did we just miss the massive rush on Javier Colon and Dia Frampton albums? Advantage: “American Idol.”
For the most part, “Idol” has relied on raw, fresh-faced kids to fill its roster. An enduring appeal of the show stems from the thrill of watching a raw youngster come from nowhere and live the American dream as he or she blossoms into a star.
“The Voice,” at least in Season 1, was littered with retreads — or what Jackson calls “second-chance people”: Contestants who had previous record deals or Broadway experience. Sure, they deserve a shot at their dreams, too, but the show just didn’t have that same magical sense of discovery. Advantage: “American Idol.”
It was easy to take “Idol” mainstay Ryan Seacrest for granted — until we witnessed the thuddingly dull antics of deposed “X Factor” host Steve Jones. We now have a new appreciation for how the amiable Seacrest keeps things moving smoothly and puts the contestants — and viewers — at ease.
Carson Daly on “The Voice” is more of a nonfactor. He doesn’t tick us off like Jones did, but he doesn’t bring much to the dance, either. He’s more of a wallflower. Advantage: “American Idol.”
Ratings aside, “Idol” and “The Voice” will also be competing for space on America’s DVRs, as well as for iTunes downloads and water-cooler buzz. Of course, the battle mainly will hinge on the level of camera-friendly talent the shows wind up presenting.
“Idol” already has uncovered some intriguing personalities during its audition rounds. “The Voice” gets things rolling Sunday night.
Let the sing-off begin.
10 p.m. EST Sunday (time approximate after the Super Bowl); shifts to regular time slot at 8 p.m. Monday.
8 p.m. EST Wednesdays and Thursdays