NBC promotes ‘The Voice’ as the anti-‘Idol’

Trying to launch a new singing competition show beneath the looming shadow of “American Idol” presents a problem: how do you not look like a blatant knock-off?

NBC deals with that difficulty in its first promo for “The Voice”  with gutsy pluck, positioning its unscripted series as something of an “Idol” antidote.

While the 60-second clip just released on YouTube doesn’t mention a certain Fox show by name, it’s clear what show Carson Daly is referring to when he says of the “Voice’s” celebrity “coaches,” “”They’re not willing to just go, ‘You suck, you’re great, good luck out there, kids.'”

Ditto for one of those celebrity panelists, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, who puts a finer point on distinguishing “Voice” from “Idol”: “The biggest difference between this show and other vocal competition shows is that it’s a blind audition.”

As the promo depicts, a “blind audition” involves the judges listening to aspiring contestants with their backs turned so that they can concentrate on the voices, not the appearances. For you see, as fellow celebrity panelist Christian Aguilera explains, “I love that it’s based purely on their voice.”

Cue the show’s tagline: “Close your eyes. Open your ears.”

“Voice” fancies itself as some kind of comparatively purer take on a singing competition than “Idol”; this show focuses only on vocal talent and aims to nurture its contestants rather than verbally lacerate them on air.

NBC had to find some angle to differentiate “Voice,” but is this the right marketing strategy? To counter “Idol” as a kindler, gentler adaptation of the genre doesn’t quite resonate in the post-Cowell era, and the Fox series has record-industry guru Jimmy Iovine on staff this year as in-house mentor to do just the kind of nurturing Daly is suggesting is lacking.

And to set up “Idol” as some kind of superficial foil hung up on surface beauty also rings hollow. Yes, “Idol” always has its share of lookers, but of all the criticisms that have been leveled at the juggernaut over the years, it’s tough to recall accusations of the Fox hit being a beauty contest.

Besides,it’s a little strange to have lamentations directed at the music industry’s obsession with looks coming from the likes of Levine and Aguilera, who aren’t exactly trolls (Note: that’s “trolls” in the pre-Sheen understanding of the word).

No doubt “Voice” producers are hoping to hit upon some kind of Susan Boyle-like sensation who triumphs over his or her own homeliness to capture America’s hearts. Otherwise, it’s the ratings that could get ugly.

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