"The Voice," NBC's heavily promoted singing competition with Christina Aguilera taking the focal reins, opens with the four celebrity "coaches" singing Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." The performance is steady without being remarkable, competent yet hardly sparkling an omen of sorts for the performances that fill the two-hour premiere tonight (Apr. 26).
After a rules explanation that eats up a healthy chunk of time, about a dozen singers take the stage and run through hits by the likes of Faith Hill, Adele, Nirvana, Aretha Franklin, Bruno Mars, Janis Joplin, Estelle and Rascal Flatts.
Host Carson Daly explains the concept: Aguilera, Maroon 5's Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton will have their backs turned while performers sing a single selection. They do not know the singers, names, ages, backgrounds; they are forced to trust their ears.
Each coach will create teams of eight singers each -- they get about half way there in the debut -- making their selections known by hitting a large red button that turns their chair around to face the performer. If more than two coaches spin around, which happens often in the first episode, the singer gets to choose their coach. Each coach takes a slightly different tack to entice a singer: Levine and Aguilera go thick with compliments; Green plays things cool; and Shelton uses aw-shucks country charm. If none of them turns around -- and this occurs three times on the premiere -- the singer returns home.
Not surprisingly, "The Voice" borrows more than a few tricks from "American Idol," chiefly the stationing of Daly with the contestants' families during each performance so he is there to greet the singers once they know their fate. Lots of tears, lots of hugs.
Storylines that involve a troubled past are dispatched quickly. One girl tours the country in her 1992 Toyota and has no home; one guitar strummer has six children and a few years of sobriety; and a married couple is living in the basement of the wife's parents' home, hoping for their musical break.
Then there's the one story that does not quite click with a sympathy vote: A pretty girl who has spent her life being known as "the pretty girl with the good voice." She has had enough of it. She just wants to be known as a singer. Green and Levine, who clearly like her singing, are none to shy about expressing how happy they are that she can sing -- and is quite pretty. Seems like that fact won't go away.
One singer after another is as professional as the next one. Fear gets a hold of some of their voices, especially at the start of several songs, and when the coaches weigh in on instances where they did not buzz in, it is usually the lack of a unique quality in the singing.
Two performers stood out for taking chances with their interpretations, former Capitol Records artist Javier Colon and Rebecca Loebe. More than the others, they arrive with shaped musical personalities, but there is no telling whether that will help or hinder in the coming weeks when they are put in head-to-head matches with other singers.
A couple of performances do get all four coaches to buzz in and in one case it is for a singer who may have been discounted based on his physical appearance. The producers have gone for a few singers that may have been pre-judged for their looks. There are shaved heads and Afros, neck tattoos and beer bellies, teens and fortysomethings, and at least one bad hat selection. More than just Colon will be familiar faces to some: "American Idol" dropout Frenchie Davis, Texas troubadour Tje Austin, who has three albums to his name, and musical party girl Kelsey Ray, whose "Masquerade" video has been played 1.4 million times on YouTube, are in the competition.
While America waits to see which singers will quickly emerge as favorites, there's no denying that right now this is Aguilera's show. She takes control whenever possible, blending congeniality, glamour and sass in attractive package. And the cameras can't help emphasizing her either -- her cleavage is given much more air time that any of the men's assets.