Was that The Voice? We Didn’t Really Hear it.

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Bravo, NBC. When it comes to staging an extravagant, overly complex talent competition that lacks the gritty bite of other reality giants, you take the cake.

Sure, The Voice is undoubtedly feel-good, cheesy TV. But that doesn’t compensate for a truly underwhelming two-hour premiere – rife with the usual belting and dull banter that you’d see on other singing competitions. Though, The Voice seems to tack on an unusual amount of sunshine, rainbows and bunnies compared to its predecessors.

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By now, you’ve surely heard about this wild new idea for a singing competition. A panel of celebrity judges (er, I mean, “coaches”) – consisting of Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton – listen to a stream of performers with their chairs turned backward to remove any physical characteristics from the equation. Judges are then tasked with choosing a team of eight singers (by pushing a little magic red button that turns their chair around) to train and mentor. Eventually, the competition will go live, and America gets to vote on “the Voice.”

Odd, this sounds strangely like a mix of The X-Factor and Idol. But I thought this was supposed to be an innovative concept?

No doubt, the show boasts a talented blend of individuals for its panel. We only know that because the judges themselves relentlessly praise each other – even as performers select who they want their coach to be. You’ve got Adam Levine claiming he didn’t turn his chair around because he saw the performer as a better fit for the amazing and gifted likes of Christina or Cee Lo.  Talk about a lack of competitive spirit.

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Perhaps the best part about the dynamic is the quasi-aggressive banter that highlights the level of tension present: zero. At one point Cee Lo proclaims, “Competition is getting tough out there.” Really, Cee Lo? We know you didn’t sing “Forget You” about any of your fellow judges. It might be just me, but I miss the Simon and Paula days.

Luckily, the judges did axe the weakest performers. But, of course, they did it with tame constructive criticism that doesn’t make you say any “oohs,” “ahs” or “ouches.” Again, where is Simon when you need him?

In general, the talent pool is composed of overwrought singers, many with sob stories. However, there were some notable performances. Jeff Jenkins from Texas – whose mom died less than a year ago – did a solid rendition of “Bless the Broken Road” that was both tactful and tender.  Noticeably missing from the show are the notoriously bad tryouts so characteristic of Idol. This makes for more positive television with The Voice, but no one can argue that Idol’s mockery provides good entertainment.

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To its credit, the show does have a few things going for it. Host Carson Daly was a bit of a surprise. He took a demure approach, standing by contestants’ families backstage and appearing genuinely supportive; it was a nice change from the overbearing Ryan Seacrest. And from the looks of it, Twitter users raved about the show last night, though I have an inkling that it’s because America is sometimes a little too easy to please.

All in all, the show is no real departure from other reality talent competitions. Mark Burnett, you’re the pioneer of reality TV – and this is what you give us? It seems Idol’s Carole King tribute will go off without a hitch this week.

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Maybe the show will be like caviar: at first you have a distaste for it but then it grows on you. But after its less-than-stellar launch, it’s hard to say at this point.

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