Javier Colon. Jermaine Paul. Tessanne Chin. Craig Wayne Boyd. What do these names have in common? They’ve all won seasons of “The Voice.” However, it may have taken a moment or two for some out there who have seen all of the seasons of the show to even remember that.
From the beginning, NBC has billed this show as a singing-competition with the goal of finding the next great voice in America. It has never been guaranteed, written in blood, or using whatever other means necessarily that the winner will go on to have a big career; however, it is assumed they will get the best chance to succeed, and smartly so. It you look at least at the past winners of “American Idol,” they at least have been given opportunities to be successful stars in the recording industry. Sure, some have flopped in recent iterations, but if you watch the show’s commercials to date the star power is still what they boast. They remind you of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, and Jennifer Hudson. It doesn’t even matter whether or not their time on the show is the main reason for their fame (as is the case for Hudson in “Dreamgirls”); the fact that they have it is enough.
For “The Voice,” they have Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbery, two moderate stars in country music, as their main source of clout. Both have found some success, but having two moderate stars through nine seasons, and only in one genre of music, is far from stellar.
To begin this discussion in proper, we have to discuss where things are going wrong for the most part with the model that is presently in place.
Do the record labels even bother?
Recently, one of the show’s own coaches in Adam Levine blasted Universal Music Group and the job they have done with the contestants after the show, saying effectively the following to Howard Stern on his Sirius XM show:
“You’d be shocked to see it. The show ends, and they’re like, ‘Okay, they don’t matter to me anymore’ … I don’t understand why they don’t care. That’s what drives me absolutely bonkers. And then it makes me feel defeated on my end because there’s really not much I can do.”
He also claims that the contestants are locked in contractually to work with UMG following the show, and while he has a personal connection to many of the singers that he mentors, there is not as much that he can do because of it. All of the coaches obviously have industry connections, and could recommend and offer more suggestions on the shopping process … but alas, the corporate synergy would be lost if they did so. UMG, many of its labels, and NBC are all owned by the same parent company. It doesn’t mean the same people are involved, but the money all changes hands internally.
Some of the other coaches’ disdain for the post-show record deal process was made apparent even on Tuesday night’s finale, when Pharrell Williams seemed to infer in a comment to Jordan Smith that he hopes he has an opportunity to make an album that suits him rather than something manipulated by someone else. (It should be noted that the intention here is not to completely absolve the coaches of the responsibility; they could always do more, but the labels specifically exit for this purpose.)
Instead of painting every label with a brush, you do have to give the Big Machine imprint some credit. They were the team who helped Pope and Bradbery find some success, and they’ve helped to ensure that the two have had repeat return performances on the series, which is not something afforded to even all past winners.
What can be done to fix the issue?
It would be nice to envision a world where Levine, Pharrell, and the other coaches can just go out and help their acts get signed, find them producers, and push them on the way to stardom. It’s just not possible. These people are all too busy for that level of individual focus, and that’s not even a part of the job description. Should coaches be able to get more involved in the post-show process if they choose? Certainly, but as we mentioned, it should not be a requirement.
The biggest problem with the path on “The Voice” is that it is forcing the winner to have to be with a label at all. This is an entertainment show first and foremost. The coaches are the stars more so than the contestants most of the time. This is why we get so many packages featuring their witty banter, Blake and Adam’s bromance, or various antics behind the scenes. If the shows were really that invested with trying to make this about cultivating careers, they’d allow there to be more live shows, more innovative song choices, and more opportunities for the contestants to communicate to viewers beyond answering terrible questions from host Carson Daly during the results show.
What the series needs to look at more how to let these competitors spread their wings, choose a label that best suits them (if they want one), and communicate properly with their fans. With the sort of sales most of these winners are getting, would UMG really be missing out on that much money? The profit may not be worth the effort, or lack of effort, that they provide. Some singers could benefit from going independent, or really creating fun, innovative videos similar to what Pentatonix did following their time on “The Sing-Off” in hopes of having it go viral. They’ll at least have a base in place. There are ways to keep the music and the publicity going that don’t involve rushing out an album. Some labels do not understand that, and maybe the same could go for some singing-show alumni who are not getting the right advice after they wave goodbye to the “Voice” stage. They spend so much time calling these contestants “artists,” so why not let them be a little more artistic?
Also, here is a novel thought. Do you know how you are paying the coaches millions of dollars a season? It’s probably affordable to salary an additional person or two at a fraction of the cost to further guide contestants, help them (but not force them to) make decisions, serve as a connection to NBC for future endeavors. Don’t make them be beholden to a particular company or label.
The one other thing that the show itself could consider doing while it is on the air is allowing contestants to show more individuality. Talk about why they sing, their writing process if they write, or what they want listeners to get from their performances. Allow them to do more original songs if they have a chance. Let the people know that these are not just reality TV archetypes that you are regurgitating before millions of people every week (the “talented teenager,” the “soulful singer,” the “single dad turned country singer”). There are so many great artists who have come and gone on this show (Josh Kaufman, Sawyer Fredericks, Juliet Simms, Will Champlin) who viewers may still not understand the true extent of their talent thanks to how they weren’t given enough opportunities to shine. We say this with the full cognizance that some of these people won their seasons!
As a whole, “The Voice” is as consistent of entertainment as you are going to get from a singing show in 2015. The problem is that it should be more than just that, and from the basis of its original premise, it has the responsibility to. The question boils down to whether or not the producers and the network really want to take that on versus the status-quo strategy of clicking “ignore” and hope the next season is good enough for viewers to forget how they previously dropped the ball.
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