If it was still up to me I wouldn’t watch much TV beyond Conan’s string dance and every recent Blackhawks win on repeat.
But you know how it goes – sometimes when the sun goes down you find yourself seated next to your significant other just to say hi and you become too weary to get up. And when the anecdotes of the day run out, your gaze drifts towards whatever is on TV and becomes affixed with that oblivious stare.
And eventually you find yourself asking – why is Cee Lo holding a cat?
That’s the feel around the first few weeks of NBC’s The Voice (7 p.m. on Mondays) – loose as the security in whatever jail Blago ends up at, chill as.. well, last winter.
I’ve long maintained that manufacturing pop stars the American Idol way is no different than the old way record companies recruited them – bring in the skinny ones, make ‘em camera-pretty and see how many people vote/buy the single.
But as the all the aging, struggling artists go by during these first few weeks of blind auditions for The Voice, it kind of evokes a feeling that dreams are not only open to anyone, but that they never have to be forgotten.
Not only that, but you can get Adam Levine and Blake Shelton to trade jabs, vying for attention if they think you’re good enough. Four pop stars building musical teams for an honest competition – this is a completely different dynamic than the dog and pony show and weeks and weeks of increasingly jealous-sounding creative-writing-class-criticism American Idol offers.
This is (current) professionals helping professionals professionally.
This is a place for all the artists who have already been out there working on that dream – people interested in the making of music, rather than just the performing of it – people whose families still buy them Ramen noodles for Christmas.
Sounds cheesy? Absolutely it is. But -- almost unbelievably -- people still do pursue dreams.
Jermaine Paul (33) sang backup vocals for Alicia Keys for years – Tony Vincent left Green Days’ Broadway rendition of American Idiot – Justin Hopkins (30) played guitar in host Carson Daly’s house band back when dude actually had a studio for his late night show – they all dropped what they were doing and toted their parents, young families and probably a train of creditors behind them for a chance to try.
Last year’s second place winner – Dia Frampton – released indie-rock albums with sister Meg as Meg and Dia. She now has a record deal all her own thanks to voters and coach Blake Shelton.
(Keep in mind that these are the biggest success stories of the tryouts. Many of them still work in bowling alleys with only giant neck tattoos signifying their rock star status to the world.)
Pop stars always seem slightly unreal because, in the manufacturing of them, there is always a moment when the fast-forward button is pushed. Lady Gaga’s first album dropped like a dance-bomb out of nowhere. But that’s because somebody with money and pull saw Stefani Germanotta wooing a crowd from behind a piano somewhere unassuming, bleached her hair and pushed her in the right direction (as long as that’s what you think “right” is – it’s your (and her) prerogative).
If you’re someone like the Black Keys, that fast-forward might not come unless you finally cop to putting your music in commercials. Key point: I first heard of the Black Keys in 2003 (-ish) – they’re just reaching peak popularity (well.. last year. And if you don’t happen to feel time anymore like me – 8 years is nearly a decade of plateauing).
Pairing these burgeoning artists up with one of four coaches from varying genres could possibly tap that fast-forward for just a moment.
Whatever path taken, it still may or may not work – A.I. semi-finalist Daughtry has a pretty grindey touring schedule and Katharine McPhee is, uh, a TV actor now? Clay Aiken will be a pop culture trivia question one day and do you even remember who won season three (or the first season of The Voice, for that matter?).
Carrie Underwood may be the only one who really hit the market with gusto (she’s the only one who pops up first if you type all the above first names into Google).
Reality TV isn’t real – but neither is pop music. That’s why I never gave a show like American Idol much hell for staying true to its own plastic form. And it worked. And they made billions. (And even convinced me to watch a few seasons somewhere in the middle.)
But The Voice is not a factory. It’s being a musician and winning the chance to hit that button. Or not.
It’s a chance to leap out of the cover-band bars and past YouTube (where surprisingly few real acts make the leap, short of Bieber, a few kitschy loop artists and one big joke about Friday).
It’s a shot to keep doing what you’re doing. Which not a lot of sane musicians get.
Why does Cee Lo get to bring his cat to the set?
Because he’s a rock star.