I’ve never really fallen for competition reality shows before. I dislike American Idol‘s tendency to humiliate candidates who aren’t remotely qualified. I can’t taste the food on Top Chef. And I did watch my way through a full season of Project Runway before its move from Bravo to Lifetime, but it never quite stuck. But I’ve finally fallen for one: I am totally, insanely obsessed with The Voice. Too many good things cannot be said about the competition: there are, by design, no duds in the lineup of uniformly strong singers; the format’s oriented toward craft and positive reinforcement, and rewards humor; the mix of judges is genuinely productive and fun to watch.
But I’m also really digging the way the show’s developed as a rebuke to Idol’s habitual weirdness on gay rights — the dominant competition reality show asked a gay contestant to remove any references to his sexual orientation in the first season, ostensibly to make sure he didn’t end up with an unfair advantage, and in season five, ended up with a competitor who was maybe a supporter of the ex-gay movement. Adam Lambert’s non-denial denials about whether he was gay ended up seeming forced and absurd the longer they dragged out. By contrast, the two standouts on The Voice are not only gay, but refreshingly, gay people who the show isn’t forcing to conform to media-friendly stereotypes of lipstick lesbians or fashion-obsessed effeminate gay men. There’s something kind of awesome about watching Beverly McClellan stomp out on stage in a kilt, military jacket, and her shaved head and tattoos, tear into a Melissa Etheridge track, and to have Blake Shelton, who earlier in the season got himself in hot water for rewriting a country song to have weirdly homophic lyrics, tell her how attractive he finds her:
Or to watch her prove that you don’t need to be a pantsless wonder like her coach to light up a crowd on “Lady Marmalade”:
The show’s not perfect, of course. It was really too bad that the show labeled Nakia’s partner Robert his “friend” in subtitles after Nakia’s battle round, especially since he’s talked extensively about how important Robert is to him, and how he’s doing the show as a thank-you to Robert for all the support he’s given him over the years:
American Idol may do national auditions, but The Voice, from its competitors to its mix of musical styles, actually looks like America and how Americans listen to music.