Not Even Ariana Grande Can Save ‘The Voice’
On Monday night, The Voice welcomed its latest coach and one of the most high-profile artists the singing competition has managed to acquire in its 10-year run, Ariana Grande. Over the course of the two-hour premiere, the “Positions” singer was greeted with as much fanfare and lip service from the contestants and her fellow coaches as one would expect, first stealing the spotlight in a group performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and remaining the center of her colleagues’ stale comedic banter throughout the show. The pop superstar even received a “thank u, next” button on her rotating chair.
Since its inception, the NBC reality-competition program has always put its celebrities front and center, taking cues from American Idol in its later seasons and promoting its star power and coach dynamics above the amateur talent. But the announcement of Grande on The Voice felt slightly more urgent and tactical, particularly since the recent departure of one of the show’s inaugural coaches Adam Levine, who had more mainstream hits and relevancy amongst a younger, more female crowd as compared to artists like Blake Shelton, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend or even Gwen Stefani in the on-and-off years she’s coached. As with the addition of Miley Cyrus in 2016 and Nick Jonas last year, The Voice seems to be making another desperate bid for younger millennials’ and Gen Z’s attention, as the show’s viewership has increasingly skewed older like most network television in the streaming era. But while Grande and her legion of Arianators will most likely make some kind of impact in this department, the charismatic, astute coach still can’t save the show from itself.
It becomes clear thirty minutes into Season 21’s premiere that The Voice will always be a protracted celebrity meet-and-greet, first and foremost. While judges for more cutthroat competitions like American Idol and The X Factor have historically been less approachable and more daunting—they purposely hold the position of judges, not coaches after all—The Voice has always presented its stars as the most caring and good-natured people in the industry, suggesting that you actually should meet your heroes and even feel safe enough in their presence to be the most vulnerable version of yourself. During a time when cruelty on reality-competition shows is phasing out, this #positivevibes ethos has worked in the show’s favor and even inspired American Idol to eliminate “bad” auditions.