Casting shows often have little to do with real singing talent, but the Dutch show The Voice challenged that by introducing blind auditions. Can the European format succeed in the US?
The Voice of Holland is crossing the Atlantic
Most people have never heard of Ben Saunders. But in the Netherlands, the tattoo artist turned pop sensation is a household name after winning the casting show, The Voice of Holland.
Originally created by showbiz guru John de Mol and his production company, Talpa, the show is now set to take the United States by storm. The American format of The Voice premieres Tuesday on NBC.
The catch is that the jury's initial selection is blind - their backs are turned when singing contestants perform. They choose their favorites based on voices alone and offer them coaching, but the participants have the final say on which star jury member they rehearse with.
Talent over image
Talpa spokesman Thomas Notermans said the show's recipe for success is twofold: The candidates "can all sing properly" to begin with, and "the coaches are there to mentor the participants, not to criticize them."
Notermans is convinced this European casting format, which puts talent over image, will succeed in a market as competitive and diverse as the US.
"If you look at the American coaches, you see that they represent different music styles," he said.
Indeed, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton will be showing the contestants their backs starting Tuesday. Following the first cut, there are then singing battles between participants of the same team. Finally, the 17-episode series culminates in live shows.
Ben Saunders stole Dutch hearts
The end of an era
"American Idol" has, until now, been the most successful music talent show in the US, producing top international stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson.
The show was inspired by the British format, Pop Idol, which crossed the Atlantic in the hands of music producer Simon Cowell. His harsh criticism of the contestants' performances won him many fans across the US. But, after nine seasons, Cowell walked out of the show so that he could bring another British success to the American audience: X-Factor.
This season's ratings of American Idol have been the lowest in the program’s history. In its first week in January 2011, ratings dropped by about 13 percent.
Some critics believe the American audience has grown tired of the format; others claim the show lost its soul when Cowell left. Either way, American Idol's slump opens the door for The Voice.
Room for underdogs
"Everyone wants to be a star, but those of us who can only dream of having talent enjoy watching other stars or potential stars making it big," wrote Len Melisurgo, TV blogger for New Jersey's Star-Ledger newspaper.
"We also like rooting for underdogs: That's one reason why so many Americans felt great when Kelly Clarkson, a young and ordinary waitress from Texas, became the very first American Idol," added Melisurgo. "It was a feel-good story, and everyone loves a feel-good story."
According to the blogger, The Voice will attract a lot of attention in the US with its "unique and intriguing" faceless audition procedure. He said producers are wise to broadcast the show on a Tuesday and not compete directly with veteran American Idol, which airs on Wednesdays.
The US version has a star-studded jury
Ticket to success?
In the Netherlands, The Voice of Holland broke all the records. On January 21, more than half of the Dutch viewing public tuned in to watch Ben Saunders win the first season of the show.
Saunders had been a star from the very beginning; during his audition three out of the four coaches selected him just seconds into his performance of "Use Somebody" from Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody." He garnered three number one hits from the six songs he performed at the live shows. Saunders' first solo album was released on April 22 and hit number two on the Dutch charts within two hours.
The US is the first country to adopt The Voice, though Talpa has already sold the format in Germany, Ukraine, Belgium, Greece and Turkey, and is currently in negotiations in 20 other countries.
The financial details are not made public, but there has been speculation that German partner ProSieben may have paid as much as six million euros (around $8.7 million) for the right to the program. Now that's something to sing about.
Author: Cintia Taylor
Editor: Kate Bowen