This week, "The Voice" put a new twist on the singing-contest formula by hosting "blind auditions," during which the judges listened to contestants with their backs turned. Well, maybe it's a good thing these auditions were blind--because if not, the judges might have recognized quite a few of these contestants, especially Javier Colon.
Of the dozen singers who made it through on "The Voice" Tuesday, very few of them were total newbies. There was more than one ex-reality contestant in the mix, to start. Season 2 "American Idol" contestant Frenchie Davis made the cut, and to her credit, she made absolutely no secret of her past (though, given her controversial "Idol" disqualification back in the day, there's no way she could have, anyway). And I can only assume that "Rock Star: Supernova" winner Lukas Rossi, who is scheduled to compete on a future "Voice" episode, will also be upfront about his history, considering his old ties to "Voice"/"Rock Star" creators Mark Burnett Productions and his instantly memorable panda-eyed, spiky-haired rocker image. Another "Voice" contestant this week, Tarralyn Ramsey, actually won VH1's Queen Latifah-hosted "Born To Diva" contest in 2004, put out an album on Universal Records, and toured with Mary J. Blige and Ray Charles. In her case, however, none of this was actually mentioned on "The Voice," oddly, although her former superstar touring partnerships and recording experience are disclosed on NBC's "Voice" website.
Perhaps the biggest professional on "The Voice" this week was Javier Colon. The charismatic singer-songwriter's amazing acoustic cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" was the episode's true goosebump moment, establishing him as an early frontrunner; the performance was also very prominently featured in promos for "The Voice" in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's big premiere, and his recording of "Time After Time" is, as of this writing, already at #43 on the overall iTunes singles chart. But it's no wonder Javier seemed so at ease onstage, since it turns out he once served as the frontman for the Derek Trucks Band and released two solo albums (under the singular moniker "Javier") on Capitol Records in the mid-2000s. While his Capitol deal is also mentioned on his "Voice" webpage, it too was not brought up during his on-air "Voice" bio segment, which instead focused on the 31-year-old dad's family life and struggle to pay the bills.
To be fair, "The Voice" never claimed that its contestants were totally inexperienced (a Cinderella myth that still seems to be at the heart of "Idol," even if that's kind of a fallacy these days). "The Voice" never claimed that these singers came to Hollywood fresh off the Greyhound Bus, or that they camped out in parking lots for hours to audition. (In fact, the producers never really explained the contestant-selection process at all, instead just saying they extended invitations to the finest unsigned singers in America.) So the show technically did nothing wrong...although there does seem to be a slight sin of omission here. Why would they not mention that Javier had released (excellent, but criminally under-promoted) music on Capitol before, when a) the story of him getting dropped from Capitol could actually stir up sympathy for this lost gem, and b) such information is only a mouse-click away for curious "Voice" viewers, anyway? Total transparency is key in this Internet age, especially for a show like "The Voice" that is really taking advantage of social media.
Now, let me make one thing very crystal clear: Frenchie, Tarralyn, Lukas, and especially Javier are all examples of great talents who somehow slipped through the cracks. All of them had potential, but for sundry sad reasons their careers were bungled by various powers-that-be, thus possibly making a show like "The Voice" their one last hope. I actually like the idea of these worthy people getting second chances, and if that "second chance" angle was played up even more, I think it could help differentiate "The Voice" from "Idol" even further. I simply think "The Voice's" producers need to be upfront about these contestants' pasts, otherwise viewers might feel disgruntled and duped when they do quick Wikipedia or YouTube search and discover that these singers are hardly new to the music business. It was this sort of lack of disclosure that stirred up backlashes against supposed "ringers" like ex-major-label signings Carly Smithson and Kristy Lee Cook on "American Idol" a few years ago--controversies that could have been easily avoided if the show had not only mentioned their pasts, but had effectively woven the sagas of their failed record deals and broken dreams into those contestants' respective sob stories.
"The Voice" is on the right track by disclosing its contestants' professional experience on its website, but there is still some perceived secrecy when some of this key info is omitted from the broadcast. So I encourage the producers to always be honest and upfront on the actual TV episodes, lest the show's very worthy contenders suffer undeserved backlashes that blow their (second) chances.
Which of the current "Voice" contestants do you think most deserves a second shot at stardom? Let your own voice be heard on the message board below.