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The Voice Watch: And the Winner Is…

The winner of this season, as much as anyone, was NBC. But can the singing contest finally launch a genuine star?

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Tyler Golden/NBC

Spoilers for last night’s live results episode of The Voice below:

It was obvious well before the final choice was announced who the winner of the third season of The Voice was: NBC. The network now has, like Fox did with American Idol, an anchor franchise reality show that can prop up its ratings and–at least to an extent–launch other shows. You could see how far The Voice has come by the guest-talent list it got for the results show: Peter Frampton! Bruno Mars! Avril Lavigne! And just to stab at Idol’s heart, Kelly Clarkson!

What The Voice has not had yet, and I am going to piss off someone’s fans here, is an honest-to-God star as its winner, a la Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. And it’s clearly hoping to change things with Cassadee Pope, who, if you’ve been following this season, you knew was going to win before you turned on your TV last night.

I may have been more partial to the growly, funky-white-boy soul stylings of Nicholas David—I am an old man after all—and there were for my money stronger pure voices this season. But at some point around when she performed Miranda Lambert’s “Over You,” Cassadee just grew fifty feet taller than anyone else on The Voice’s stage, striding toward victory like a rampaging Statue of Liberty in a dress made of mirror shards.

And I’m OK with that. I like that The Voice is a show where a more eccentric talent like Nick, or a golden-throated non-pinup like Terry McDermott, can make the finals. But whatever the show’s cover story about being “just about the singing,” once those chairs have turned around, it’s a performance show like any other. And Cassadee had the combination of vocal control, emotional persuasion and stage command that lets an audience know they are in the hands of a pro.

Literally a pro, of course, which is where I assume some fans will have issues with whether Cassadee “deserved” it. She already fronted the power-pop band Hey Monday and released two albums with them. Win or lose last night, I have to imagine her second chance as a solo artist was already assured in a way that Nick’s and Terry’s aren’t (at least not necessarily). But that’s not disqualifying for The Voice (whereas Idol has wrestled with its tricky definition of who’s too “professional” for the show) so it’s also a moot point.

As for this season of The Voice overall, I’m probably biased: my kids got into the show this year, so I found myself watching much more, and getting more invested in the contestants, than past seasons. That may be me as much as the show, but it does feel like The Voice has done a better job of giving its contestants an arc, so that you feel you know them as performers by the end of the season. And it’s done that without losing the towel-snapping interplay of the rival coaches, who now exist both as legit performers and sitcom characters. (Sassy Xtina! Fashion plate Adam! Eccentric Cee-Lo! Country-lawyer Blake!)

As befits an Idol-scale show, The Voice threw itself a big party for its finale, complete with both big stars and the requisite embarrassing group numbers. (“Stacy’s Mom” was the most cringeworthy thing I’ve watched since the Virginia Woolf re-creation in Liz and Dick.) And like many a successful reality show before it, it has decided to risk overexposure, with a spring cycle starting in March. (That’s one thing Idol wisely did not do, though arguably starting The X Factor was essentially the same thing for Fox.)

In a way, Cassadee was the most emblematic winner The Voice could have had, the most representative of the show itself at this point in time. She transformed herself over the course of the season, from the frontwoman for an emo pop-rock band to an imposing solo diva singing power ballads and baldly sentimental country songs. This may be partly the makeover magic of reality TV, but she also seems like a canny entertainer who has assessed what she needed to become to reach the next level in her business and diligently became it.

So too with The Voice. It got buzz; it got ratings. What it has not had yet is a genuine, sustained chart-topping star, and Cassadee seems to be its best shot yet at that. The show, of course, could not just give her the crown, which she had to earn with voters. But it did what it could, giving her the final slot in the performance final—and it’s a savvy, if businesslike, move to count iTunes downloads as enhanced votes, giving more power to singers who can move units.

We’ll see whether Cassadee delivers or not as an artist, for herself and for her alma mater. But it would be ironic—if not at all surprising—if The Voice reaches the next level achievement by crowning its most American Idol–like winner yet.