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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.