The first sign that "The Voice" was poised for its strongest season yet came early on, during the blind auditions.
Unlike the usual "American Idol" initial mix of the brilliant, the bad and the borderline psychotic, the four "Voice" coaches faced – or chose not to face – singers all seemingly worth a turn of the chair.
Three months later, “The Voice” is headed for a dramatic Season 3 finale, powered by some outstanding performers with a talent quotient reminiscent of the glory days of “Idol” – but with sounds all their own.
"The Voice" isn't ending without an "Idol"-style controversy. We're among those furious that Trevin Hunte, whose stunning performance of "And I am Telling You I am Not Going" proved the season highlight, got booted Dec. 11.
Still, his unfortunate departure highlights a depth of talent that can be seen – and heard – in the three remaining contenders: Nicholas David, who looks and sings like a latter-day Doobie Brother; Scottish rocker Terry McDermott, who looks like a Bay City Roller and sings like Rod Stewart; and Cassadee Pope, who looks like she might very well take the top prize and exit singing a happy tune.
McDermott and Pope are on Blake Shelton’s team, while David is a protégé of Cee Lo Green, leaving fellow coaches Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera out of the grand finale mix. But that’s just a subplot: While the coaches and their rivalries are a key part of the show, the primary emphasis of “The Voice” is where it belongs – on the contestants.
That’s probably the biggest difference between the NBC show and Fox’s “Idol,” which has suffered in recent years from panelist shufflings that too often overshadow the music. “The X Factor,” which is set for its own season finale on Fox this week, benefited from the additions of Britney Spears and Demi Lovato this season. But the bickering – particularly former “Idol” bad guy Simon Cowell vs. Lovato, and Cowell vs. L.A. Reid – detracts from strong performers like 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar, perhaps the best bet to earn the top prize, a $5 million recording contract.
Sure, the banter among the coaches on “The Voice” can get heated. But Shelton, Levine, Green and Aguilera frequently encourage and praise rival acts – a stark contrast from, say, Reid’s bitter criticism of Cowell’s favorite group of the moment, Fifth Harmony.
The novelty of “The Voice,” of course, could fade, and the show could be risking overexposure by producing 30 one or two-hour installments over 14 weeks. Next season, Usher and Shakira are set to spell Green and Aguilera for a cycle, potentially altering the so-far winning chemistry.
Season 4 is expected to arrive in the spring, when “Idol,” still the big daddy of the genre, is a couple of months into its 12th outing. The new judges lineup boasts Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, whose battling already is making publicity friendly headlines, as well as Keith Urban and holdover Randy Jackson.
In the end, success – at least for the contestants – should come down to whose voice soars highest. The two-night “Voice” finale on Monday and Tuesday seems worth a spin of the chair to face the music. In the meantime, check out a promo below: