Now that the uncertainties of American Idol have made it appear frail and teetering, like Steven Tyler in concert, the other networks can sense its vulnerability—hence NBC’s plans to swoop in this spring and overtake AI’s hobbled gazelle with the far more patriotic-sounding beast The Voice Of America. The rival show, based on the Dutch program The Voice Of Holland, comes from reality TV super-producers Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) and John de Mol (Big Brother, Fear Factor) as well as Warner Horizon Television (The Bachelor, Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew—awkward!), which is certainly an assemblage of people who do not fuck around when it comes to unscripted television.
Billed repeatedly as a “unique” and “fresh” spin on the by-now-staid format, The Voice Of America’s major twist is that its celebrity judges audition contestants with their backs turned, eliminating Idol’s frequent hemming and hawing over a nice way to say, “Yeah, but you’re too ugly to be famous.” And once a judge presses the magic button that says they like a contestant’s voice, their chair spins around to face them, and they then become that singer’s coach, with each celebrity mentoring and making over their respective teams of protégés for a series of weekly competitions to be voted on by the audience. Winners will then receive a recording contract, of course; thanks to the three-way battle brewing between Idol, X-Factor, and now The Voice Of America, 90 percent of 2011’s recording contracts will come from televised singing competitions.