As the music competitions end their seasons – “American Idol” on Sunday (May 17), “The Voice” on Monday and Tuesday – some things are clear:
Yes, both shows are flawed, especially with judges who … well, don’t want to seem judgmental.
But the music-from-home part has worked well. “Idol” — with people like Just Sam (shown here) — quickly got it right; “Voice” flubbed its first try, then made a course-correction.
Both shows started with the flash and fuss that TV prefers, then hit a wall when the COVID-19 shutdowns began. They sent contestants home and eventually decided to have them perform there.
“Idol” was first and said people would be singing into iPhones. It sounded crude and makeshift … but wasn’t. Each had been sent a full kit, with three cameras and the right lighting and sound; each would benefit from a skilled director, cutting between the cameras … and even between musicians and back-up singers who were in their own homes.
“The Voice” followed eight days later and stumbled at first. Trying to wedge 21 performances into two hours, it squeezed out any charm; the show was just a blur of bland settings.
By the next week, however, both shows had it right.
Any music-from-home plan involves a trade-off. What you lose in sound and lighting quality, you make up for with the sheer charm of seeing people in their own settings. “Idol” recognized that immediately, capturing the charm; “Voice” did during its second try.
Both found a newly personal touch. One singer did “In My Roon” … in her room. Others had backdrops that ranged from decks and a gorgeous lake to cold apartment walls. We saw spouses, parents, siblings, even toddlers. The humanity became more apparent.
Of course, this isn’t fair. Some people had better settings and warmer families; some had more texture to their back stories.
But “Idol,” in particular, has never been fair. Few contestants could match the overcoming-the-odds stories of a Fantasia Barrino or Kellie Pickler.
Now imagine being an “Idol” contestant going against Samantha Diaz, who goes by Just Sam. She was in the foster system, then was adopted by her grandmother, sang to subway riders and decided not to endanger her grandma’s health by returning home. Instead, she’s alone in a Los Angeles apartment … a story she describes with wide-eyed charm.
Or imagine being a “Voice” contestant, going against Todd Tilghman. He’s a Mississippi pastor who shows up on camera with his wife and eight kids … one of whom already charmed viewers as a “Making It” contestant.
This new emphasis on at-home personality isn’t fair … but it is interesting. It’s an enjoyable way to wrap up a disrupted TV season.
– “American Idol” finale, 8-10 p.m. Sunday (May 17), ABC
– “The Voice” finale, 8-10 p.m. Monday and 8-11 p.m. Tuesday, NBC; the first hour Tuesday will repeat Monday’s performances