It’s all over but the vote-and-iTunes-counting for The Voice, and my take remains the same: my heart says Michelle, but my money is on Danielle.
Michelle Chamuel has been, and was last night, the more electric performer, nerd-strutting across the stage like she lived there and everyone else was just visiting. But it still feels like the momentum all season has been with Team Blake in general and Danielle Bradbery in particular. To my taste, Danielle is a strong singer but dull, delivering sweet melodies while tethered by an invisible fence to whatever front porch or wishing well The Voice constructs as her homespun stage set. But her vocals were spot-on last night, as they usually are, and, well, they do call the show The Voice. My guess is Michelle needed the Swon Brothers to have a stronger night than they did, to split the country-music vote. (I don’t see the Brothers as having much shot at all, which, given my track record with these things, probably means you should empty out your bank account and put it all on the Swons.)
But who cares who I want? The more interesting question is: who would you want to win if you were a producer of The Voice?
I’m not trying to set up some sort of conspiracy theory, or sour-grapes argument, that the producers picked a favorite and have rigged the season in their favor. But the reason that shows like The Voice, American Idol, and so on generate those theories is that the shows do, at least potentially, have a vested interest in who wins. These series have different, though related, goals: they’re talent competitions, which want to launch successful recording artists, and TV shows, which want to pull big ratings year after year.
To take the first of those first: The Voice is the hot competition-reality show on TV right now, but it has yet to produce an independently massive celebrity like Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. That hasn’t hurt it in the ratings at this point, but like Idol’s, the producers must be aware this ultimately affects its credibility. (One reason besides money, maybe, that iTunes sales are baked right into the results.) Not to take away from any of the finalists, but I’m guessing that Danielle is the most easily marketable of the potential winners: the audience loves a child prodigy, and the likes of Underwood and Miranda Lambert have shown that country audiences will vote with dollars for a singing-show winner. And indeed, Danielle had the final singing slot, putting her fresh in the minds of voters at the show’s end.
One hitch with Danielle as a Voice winner: her coach. Blake Shelton has already won The Voice—or his team has—twice in three goes. If he goes three for four, there’s the risk that he becomes the presumed favorite going forward—and thus, the show gets boring.
It’s not just the risk of the audience starting to assume that the winner is a foregone conclusion; The Voice’s format, in which contestants choose among coaches who want them, particularly lends itself to conferring advantage on a winning coach. If Blake Shelton has won 75% of the Voice seasons, and not only with country acts, why wouldn’t you pick him if you had the option? If this happens—and I suspect that it did to some extent already this season—then, like a college with a winning football program, he has a built-in recruiting advantage.
That’s entirely fair, by the way. That’s life. And it’s good for Team Blake. But for the show? Among Idol’s many problems in recent seasons has been that it produced one similar winner after another—handsome boys, usually with guitars—to the extent that it became predictable. And whether or not that was a cause of the show’s ratings declines, it was enough of an issue that, or so it seemed, the producer and judges steered the last season away from boys-with-guitars and toward female pop singers.
But Idol’s ratings dropped this season anyway, maybe despite that shift, or maybe because of it. Which may mean that, whatever worries about the show producing stars or becoming predictable, The Voice’s producers’ only good option is to stay out of the way as much as possible, let America pick who it wants, and hope that the voters produce a show that viewers will still turn their chairs around for next year.