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The Voice Has Finally Reached Peak Country

Thanks to Blake's successful decision to go all-in on country, this cycle of The Voice has essentially become Nashville Star.

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Tyler Golden/NBC

The Swon Brothers sing "Okie from Muskogee"

If y’all can’t beat ‘em, join em. This seemed to be at least the partial reaction of Teams Adam, Shakira, and Usher to the ascendancy of Blake Shelton and his dominant team of three all-country artists on The Voice. Not only did Blake’s team go country again last night, but every one of their remaining singleton opponents in the final 6, recognizing the voting audience, added at least one country tune to their playlist.

Thus, after last week’s “I hate this country” debacle, Adam Levine had Amber Carrington (a country singer at root, after all) ditch her earlier crossover efforts with a bluegrass “I Remember You” and Patsy Cline’s country standard “Crazy.” But the Nashville bug bit even Michelle Chamuel, who sang a Taylor Swift song and earned a visit from the country-popster during her rehearsal, while Sasha Allen switched up from Aretha Franklin to a fiery version of Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” for her second song.

Whoever gets eliminated tonight, and whichever team ends up winning the season, Blake Shelton’s strategic victory in this season of The Voice is all but complete. Shelton’s wife, Miranda Lambert, came to America’s attention on the reality show Nashville Star, and now the circle is just about complete: thanks to Blake’s successful decision to go all-in on country, this cycle of The Voice has essentially become Nashville Star.

Over at the blog We Love TV More, Kyle Trembley has advanced the intriguing theory that Shelton has essentially–beyond simply being a canny coach with an eye for talent–managed to shift the very voting audience for The Voice, if not the show’s audience altogether:

If you don’t like the rules, change the game.

Here’s what Blake did: For country fans who DO watch the show (and their friends that don’t), he GUARANTEED that when the top-12 rolled around and fan voting started in earnest, at least 25% (3 out of 12) of every two-hour performance show would be devoted to country music – and as long as those country fans continued voting for Blake’s acts, that percentage would increase on a weekly basis. With pure-intentioned Adam inadvertantly bringing the number up to 33% via Amber Carrington, suddenly the live shows had a VERY country feel to them.

Now to be clear: Trembley isn’t saying that this is in any way dishonest or nefarious, nor am I. It’s the way this competition works, and if country fans are hanging together for their genre, that’s their God-blessed right. Whoever doesn’t like it is free to register their disagreement with iTunes and the phone lines.

If this starts looking like the way to win going forward, though, it could have some implications for the show as a show, whatever you think of country as a genre. (I’d take Cline and Haggard over Swift, but who asked me?) First, it just has the potential to make the show more boring: Shelton has already won two of three seasons, and no reality-competition series wants to seem like a foregone conclusion.

Second, pushing The Voice toward any one genre threatens one of its greatest strengths as a music show—that it has been more varied and musically adventurous than its competitor American Idol. Idol didn’t lack for talent this season, but it did lack for excitement as it ended up with a slew of big-voice ballad singers; it wasn’t that much more interesting the seasons before, as one cute boy after another took home the recording contract.

The Voice is a show where country, power-pop, R&B have competed on equal footing, and it’ll be a better show if it stays that way. In any case, I at least wish the show’s producers and designers didn’t patronize their country stars with the cornpone sets they’re getting. Last night, the Swon Brothers sang in front of hay bales. Hay bales. Is this The Voice or Hee-Haw?

Another issue, which Trembley also points out, is not my problem but NBC‘s. If the audience gets too tilted toward any niche, it could get smaller and, depending on the singers who are favored, it could start becoming an older audience that generated less advertising money. I don’t know if that’s the case yet, but if it were—if Shelton’s winning strategy were long-term at odds with the show’s ratings and demographics—that could make for some very interesting conversations at the network.

In any case, we still have this season to finish, and it’s possible that—with four of six remaining contestants being country performers—the vote may start to split. But I doubt more than one country act goes home tonight, and* I’m guessing Michelle Chamuel ends up the last non-country singer standing. She might want to start working on her Carrie Underwood covers.

*As noted in the comments below, there’s only one elimination tonight, not two. I’m betting Holly.

10 comments
RenBjerre
RenBjerre like.author.displayName 1 Like

Michelle Chamuel didn't earn a sustained standing ovation, followed by #4 iTunes sales, because she sang a "country" song.  MC topped out because she ROCKED it. Yes she picked the right dubstep song, and Taylor Swift's blessing got our attention, but the genre that the studio audience and the purchasing audience responded to in Michelle Chamuel's performance was head-banging rock n roll. Michelle Chamuel is the only one who can deliver that excitement and energy at this stage of the game. Usher has been wise to keep her performing on the periphery of Rock/EDM thus far. Climbing on the "country" bandwagon to showcase Michelle's Rock power and energy was the perfect jujitsu coaching move that no one saw coming.

KyleLovesTV
KyleLovesTV

First, THANK YOU for the amazing shout-out to my piece on Blake Shelton and country music, sir!  Second, a lot of the feedback I've heard has echoed the "country music is now the most popular music in the US, you know" sentiment.  And that's true.  But the thing is, it's not been popular at all on The Voice to this point.  Last season, no country singer even made it past the top-20 on the show.  This season, 4 of the final 6 contestants identify themselves as country artists, and 5 of the 6 sang a country song in the quarterfinals last night.  You could make the case that country has become more popular in the few months between seasons, yes, but not to THIS extent.  This is more than a reflection of nationwide trends or a particularly good crop of country contestants - something else is going on.  

I don't think it needs to be framed as a country music conspiracy or anything like that.  My theory basically boils down to: Fans of country music will watch (and vote on) a show that features a lot of country music, while people who don't listen to country will turn off a show that features a lot of country music, and thus stop voting.  Over the weeks this has shifted the voting demographic to dramatically favor country performances over other genres.  We saw it last week with Sarah and Judith going home, and we saw it with last night's song selections.

jponiewozik
jponiewozik moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@KyleLovesTV Yeah, I should say up front, as I always emphasize, that a network's ratings are not my problem as a TV critic. But, if you're making the argument about how many people will watch, then "______ is the most popular genre" is only somewhat relevant. It may mean that exclusively featuring that genre, rather than exclusively focusing on a different genre, is better for ratings. But probably the best for ratings, for a network show, is not to exclusively focus on ANY genre. 

But again, I don't care about NBC's ratings (NBC does), I care about watching a good show. And to me The Voice has been better because it's more musically diverse, current, and adventurous. (To the post below about the first two seasons, yes, the WINNERS were soul/R&B, but the semifinalists were also pop, rock, folk-singer-songwriter, &c--it was no way as concentrated in one genre as now.

kayjay4ever
kayjay4ever

The first two seasons were soul/r&b winners, and the show hasn't turned into that genre only.  People are blowing this way out of porportion.

JavaJohnZ
JavaJohnZ

Only one act is going home tonight, so I highly doubt there is a chance more than one country act will go home tonight.

Omagus
Omagus like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

While I consider what Blake did as more strategic than nefarious, I wonder why he felt the need to have to take this approach in the first place. He won the last two seasons by building a diverse team. And while it's not his job to worry about ratings, I wonder how NBC will respond to this strategy if it does in fact negatively affect them.

I can also see this as a precursor to a situation where each of the judges starts to push "their" genre. What if the next season has Adam only taking rock singers? Or Usher or Cee-Lo only taking R&B acts? Or Shakira only taking Latin singers, or Christina only taking pop singers? Then the show becomes formulaic and we miss seeing how someone like Michelle can grow under Usher's tutelage or how Sasha can learn from Shakira. Or, for that matter, how someone like Jermaine Paul learned from Blake. If the show goes down that road, I certainly won't be interested enough to watch it anymore. I wonder how many other people would feel similarly.

kswan1962
kswan1962

@Omagus according to many sources, in 2013 country music has passed all other genres as the most listened to music inthe united states. IT aalsohas the most stations in the united states . sos while you may not care for country music there are a lot of people who do .I would venture to guess many people would continue to watch.

LisaKares
LisaKares like.author.displayName 1 Like

He (Omagus) never stated that he didn't care for country music. 

Omagus
Omagus like.author.displayName 1 Like

@LisaKares Thank you. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a country fan but I do listen to some of it. My concern is more about any one genre taking such a dominant hold on the show. I watch The Voice in large part because i enjoy hearing talented singers from various backgrounds.  If ANY genre, regardless of which, grabbed a stranglehold on the show, I'd be much less inclined to watch.