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Voice of America: What The Voice’s Shocker Elimination Says About the Show and the Audience

Even if it didn't make you hate this country, Tuesday's vote showed that The Voice is not, after all, always just about the voice.

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In a controversy that will captivate the nation until the plumbing breaks down on another cruise ship, The Voice‘s Adam Levine responded Tuesday night to the voting-off of two of his team members by saying, into a live mic, “I hate this country.” Outrage erupted. Levine answered, first with a series of defensive tweets deflecting the comment as a joke, then with a statement to Us Weekly that he was speaking out of “frustration.” At any point, I expect to discover Congressional hearings are pending.

I assume he didn’t mean it. Which is to say, he probably totally meant it, in the hyperbolic way that people do when they say things like that. As in: you really mean, “Oh, it annoys me to be reminded that most people don’t share my tastes!” Or, “Grr, it is frustrating that my fellow citizens cannot perceive quality that is objectively plain to me! They are plainly not my kindred!”

In a way, this kind of disappointment feels a personal rejection–in the sense that our music, movies, and favorite TV shows are bound up in our identities and emotions. Think of how you felt the last way a TV show you absolutely loved was canceled, and then you read something about Honey Boo Boo’s ratings or Kim Kardashian’s salary.

That’s how I’m guessing Levine meant it–he meant it in the same way I mean it when I say, “People are idiots,” or “This country is full of morons,” or “God Almighty, I freaking hate people.” Which I do about a hundred times a week, and then immediately forget it. And when I do, I don’t literally mean that all people are moron idiots whom I hate. I mean everyone except you personally. You, I like!

In any case, I share his exasperation with the vote, or at least half of it. Sarah Simmons was a talented singer, but I didn’t expect her to make the finals in any case. But I’d thought Judith had a good shot to take it all. Simply as a pure singer–in power, control, and assurance–she just seemed to be in another league from the rest of the competition. (Even Michelle, who I like better as a performer.)

I can’t read America’s collective mind, but I have to wonder if that didn’t hurt Judith in a way: that she seemed to polished, too accomplished, too much of a professional already. There wasn’t the same rising-talent-from-out-of-nowhere arc; she just a great voice.

But there’s the thing: isn’t the great voice supposed to be the be-all and end-all of this competition, hence the name? Part of The Voice’s original hook, after all, was that it would be a singing competition in which people would be judged on how they sounded, not how they looked or how heart-tugging their backstory was, unlike certain reality shows whose names rhyme with Schmamerican Schmidol. Hence the “blind” chair rounds that begin each season.

Beyond a certain point, though, The Voice isn’t blind; it’s just a reality competition show. And all those other reality-TV factors–charisma, biography, personal attachment–do matter, as they do on Idol.

I do think that The Voice is different from Idol in ways that make it, at this point, the show I prefer to watch. It’s more fun, for starters. It encourages a greater range of styles. And its contestants and song choices are much more current, where Idol still favors nostalgia and diva/power-ballad standards.

And yet, as I think Judith’s exit showed, The Voice isn’t only about the voice, any more than American Idol is. When it comes time for the public to vote, all that reality-TV stuff still matters. And the voters are still America. Love it, or, um, not.