The Voice dumbs down its reality content

The Voice — which is in all rights the successor of American Idol in the hearts and minds of Americans — is currently in the middle of a dramatic ninth season. The show follows contestants from their auditions through various stages of competition: the Battle Rounds, the Knockouts, and the Live Performances. Contestants are split into four teams when they audition, with each team being led by a coach. A variety of musical greats have been coaches, but the current season presents the coaching abilities of Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams, and Blake Shelton.

Each of the performers talk about their enthusiasm and excitement about working with a coach, and what an amazing opportunity it is. During the course of the show, we see clips from the coaching sessions where the coach or guest coach — another musician who is called in for a round — offers criticism. These clips are often followed by produced segments where the coaches talk about an individual’s strengths and weaknesses to camera. Even though The Voice is a phenomenon, it has been dumbed down for viewers in a way that’s detrimental to the show and its value in America.

The Voice excels in many ways. The format, with various rounds, keeps viewers entertained. The variety is more fun to watch, and the Battle and Knockout rounds show really fascinating juxtaposition between two artists pitted against one another. I have not long been a faithful follower of The Voice, but I do have an appreciation for the talent and growth that the singers often exhibit. I never have the gumption to vote for performers once the show reaches the Live Performance round, but I still get irrationally angry when those I like are eliminated. I often skip through the dialogue parts, and when coaches are arguing to convince a particular performer of their superiority, I usually turn down the volume because I don’t find it that exciting. So I totally recognize that I am not the most devoted of supporters, and that my criticisms come from a place of semi-enthusiasm.

That being said, one aspect that really attracts me about The Voice is the idea of mentorship and guidance. The four coaches are given time to work with each of their contestants, and that is an exciting moment to witness. As a musician, I like the idea of a coach helping the singers work through their songs, finding aspects of their voice that are stronger and giving them tips to help their performance. The show is all about giving new musicians opportunities to grow and learn and maybe break into the industry, so watching the coaches share their knowledge should be a special and exciting experience for aspiring singers around the nation.

This is where I think the show gets too dumbed down. Even though America is not filled with people who want to be singers or who know the ins and outs of musical and vocal training, repetitive quotes from coaches about needing to “believe in what someone is singing” or “feeling emotional with the song,” are unnecessary and don’t teach audiences anything about the work musicians and coaches are doing to maximize an individual’s performance. I’m not saying that coaches are lying or that emotional messages don’t matter, but this sort of communication can be improved upon with strides in technical skill or performance practice. While it’s possible that the coaches don’t have any other useful pieces of advice, it is more likely that producers of the show choose not to air the moments in which more nitty-gritty work is being done.

This season has been notable to me because of a slight increase in the instances of actual technical advice and musical aids. Rihanna, a guest host on the Knockout Rounds last week, gave advice that actually related to moments in the song where an individual could improve. Even hearing Rihanna sing with the kind of changes she was looking for demonstrated, with clarity, the actual improvement she was asking for. I don’t think that the show and coaching sessions have to be as serious as a masterclass, but I think the show could be incredibly useful for those around the nation who have not been able to receive vocal training. Having the opportunity to hear coaches sing, or act out with their bodies a certain choreographic step, not only gives audiences a glimpse as to the hard and detailed work it takes to succeed, but also humanizes the stars.

Oversimplifying the role of the coach in The Voice damages and detracts from what is inherently special and different about this reality show. While this season shows marked improvements in the technical advice that contestants receive, there is still space for the show to grow into a staple that both entertains and educates those who view it. It’s nice to pretend that success comes from a fundamental emotional core, but there is a lot of work needed to communicate feelings in music. Reality TV is in general dumbed down to an excessively formulaic and repetitive form of entertainment, which makes the popular show The Voice an excellent choice for inciting change in the genre.