Until “The Voice” came into our lives, singing competition shows were increasingly interchangeable, with most following a format that was dreamed up by some British guys more than a decade ago. That all changed in the winter of 2011, when Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton banded together to mentor contestants and bust the genre wide open. When the second season premiered after the Super Bowl, “The Voice” went from a boutique enterprise to a ratings monster, showing millions of viewers that it was still possible to be innovative in the crowded field of reality music competitions.
The competition finally seemed to catch on. The only way to stay in the game is to shake up the status quo. “The X Factor” reshuffled its judging panel after just one season, and “American Idol” is self-destructing as we speak.
Meanwhile, in a major vote of confidence from NBC, “The Voice” has gone from midseason replacement to fall dominator, premiering next week with three days of auditions (and going head to head on Wednesday with the season premiere of “The X Factor”). But one thing “The Voice” is not doing is getting complacent. Quick to take its own advice, the show is restructuring in a few key ways for Season 3.
Watch an Extended Sneak Peek of the “Voice” Premiere:
Here are some of the changes that will keep “The Voice” interesting when the show kicks off on Monday, September 10 at 8/7c on NBC.
1. Team Size: The first season of “The Voice” was like a chamber concert compared to what’s coming. Early in the show’s tenure, each judge snagged just eight singers from the blind auditions. In season two, Christina, Cee Lo, Adam and Blake each graduated 12 contestants from the auditions to the battle round. But this season, the judges each choose 16 contestants.
What it means for us: We may get a few more weeks of audition and battle round episodes, but will it mean more time with the contestants? With 64 people in the running, we imagine that rapid eliminations and only brief backstories will make it even harder for audiences to form a bond with contestants a la “Idol.”
2. The Steal: One of the most innovative segments on “The Voice” has always been the battle rounds. It’s a chance for contestants to interact with one another in a way that isn’t seen on other singing competitions. The direct competition keeps energy high, and the occasional unusual pairings of singers makes for some strange and exciting television. But the battle rounds could also be tragic whenever a judge put two ridiculously good singers against each other and then had to kick one of them off the show. (See Vicci Martinzez vs. Niki Dawson in Season 1, or Jesse Campbell vs. Anthony Evans in Season 2.) Now, judges will have a chance take the other judges’ leftovers. In this new scenario, when Cee Lo rejected Niki back in Season 1, Christina, Blake or Adam could have stolen her away.
What it means for us: The change gives judges more time to competitively and cutely bicker over contestants like they do during the blind auditions. But because each judge gets two steals, the four teams may have a total of 10 contestants each by the end of the battle rounds. Which leads us to…
3. The Knockout Round: What to do with all those extra contestants? Between the battle rounds and the live show, there will be a new segment called the “knockout round,” where the teams will whittle away extra singers. It’s like a battle round, except that the two singers paired up against one another both sing a song of their choosing, then must watch their competition perform in front of them, before their judge delivers the final decision about who stays and who goes.
What it means for us: More eliminations, faster. If last season was any indication, the rapid elimination of singers on the newly large teams meant that we did not get to vote for some of the contestants we had the most potential to grow to love. And losing more than one contestant per episode made us care less about their individual experiences. On “Idol,” for instance, everything is about the individual journey of the singer and how people at home can connect to that. Hopefully the knockout round will give us more time to forge a connection with some contestants, but the swift elimination of so many will give us less of a chance to cast a vote for someone for reasons beyond their, well, voice.
4. Total Timeslot Dominance?: Last season, “The Voice” premiered after the Super Bowl, which sent it catapulting to the top of the ratings, and made “Idol” execs quiver in their boots. This season, “The Voice” is setting its sights on toppling “The X Factor.” Next week is already jam packed, with “The Voice” on Monday and Tuesday, and “The X Factor” on Wednesday and Thursday. Now, “The Voice” has added another night of auditions on Wednesday, going up against the premiere of the Fox show.
What it means for us: A little competition never hurt anyone. By pitting one show against the other, both will need to step up their games and produce more exciting television in the hopes of winning over viewers. On one hand it could mean devastation for “The X Factor,” which last season proved a ratings disappointment to head honcho Simon Cowell. On the other hand, it could cause “Voice” fatigue; as much as we love the blind auditions, how much is too much?
5. Lady the Cockatoo: Reality TV’s craziest animal-lover, Cee Lo Green is following up last season’s successful introduction of Purrfect the Cat by bringing on a new sidekick: Lady the Cockatoo. Expect the pink bird to sit on Cee Lo’s shoulder during commentary segments and to offer her opinion on wannabe singers as only a pink bird can.
What it means for us: We’ll miss Purrfect, but hope this means a colorful barnyard of animals await us in future seasons. And should Lady and Purrfect come together at some point, it would be the battle round of a lifetime.
6. Guest Mentors: Joining the judges as guest mentors this season is a crooner, an R&B goddess and two rockers—all of whom rose to prominence in the ‘90s. Team Blake will offer contestants the expert advice of Michael Bublé, old-fashioned big band vocalist. Team Adam picked up Mary J. Blige. Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas joins Team Cee Lo, and Team X-tina gets the help of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.
What it means for us: Lots of ‘90s nostalgia, which could help “The Voice” reach the sweetspot target audience of 18-34 year-olds, will make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside (if not kind of old) as we remember blasting “Dookie” in junior high.
Bonus: One Thing we Hope Will Change: The Wardrobe: For weeks during Season 2, we had to see Adam Levine wear that brown grandpa sweater and Christina wear that bedazzled black disc on her head. Whether it helped the editors make more seamless cuts, or it was because the judges just needed to film everything in a day, the repetitive looks got old really fast. We know these judges are very busy musicians and can’t take weeks upon weeks to film auditions and battle rounds. But the least the wardrobe team could do is make it look like it didn’t all take place in a couple of hours.
What it means for us: More outfits to comment on the next day—always a good thing!
“The Voice” Season 3 premiere kicks off on Monday, Sept 10 at 8/7c on NBC.