5:15pm PT by Jonathan Bernstein
Carson Daly: Un-American Idol (Opinion)
The Voice star Adam Levine was pilloried last week when, after the expulsion of his singers, Judith Hill and Sarah Simmons, he blurted out, “I hate this country." His comments caused the right-wing call-out machine to rumble into action, denouncing Levine as an enemy of freedom on the magnitude of a Michael Moore or Alec Baldwin. But in rushing to smear Levine, concerned patriots like the New York Daily News completely missed the man on The Voice with the real un-American values. Mr. -- or should I say comrade -- Carson Daly.
To wit: on last Sunday’s edition of Oprah’s Next Chapter, which airs on the still-hard-to-locate OWN Network and was devoted to The Voice, Oprah Winfrey spent time with the coaches, sat on the spinning red chairs and celebrated the NBC show’s ratings supremacy. Then she did the thing that comes so easily to her when she talks to ordinary people and so painfully when it comes to celebrities: She asked a hard question.
Winfrey queried Daly about the show’s inability to produce a winner, or a participant, who goes on to a modicum of chart success. Daly's response: “Oprah, when did the endgame become success? And what does it mean to be successful? What does it mean to be a breakout star? Would it be nice if one of them had a No. 1 hit according to Billboard’s Top 100. Sure. Will it happen? Probably.”
Let me just repeat the most significant part of that sincerely-delivered reply. “When did the endgame become success?” Words fail me. No, they don’t. In what other competitive arena would that answer be in any way acceptable? Would it be fine if the coach of the Clippers said it? An Olympic triathlete? A contestant on MasterChef? In the country where the immortal quote, “Winning isn’t the everything, it’s the only thing” was coined, the host of a competitive singing show has bravely decided to swim against the tide.
If Daly genuinely means what he says, his attitude is refreshing. But if he doesn’t, if he was fobbing Oprah off with a carefully rehearsed reply, then clearly handling implications that The Voice’s format has a flaw was drummed into him.
And clearly it wasn’t drummed into will.i.am. A coach on the U.K. version of The Voice airing Saturday nights on the BBC, Will warned British viewer-voters during the 2012 finale, “Someone won in America, I don’t know what happened to them. We can’t let that happen here.” He was cautioning audiences against wasting their affection on big-voiced but anonymous singer Leanne Mitchell. Mitchell, who then went on to win, released her debut album last week in the U.K. It failed to make the Top 100.
But Carson Daly is no will.i.am. He tows the party line, incapable of even making the connection that the huge spotlight his show shines on its coaches and their giant personalities casts a similar-sized shadow over its armies of indistinguishable singers. In Daly’s mind -- where success is not the endgame -- the achievements of alumni from competing shows must be lies.
That's right: propaganda spread by jealous rivals. There’s no other explanation for the instant and sustained acceptance of American Idol winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Why hasn't a Voice graduate clung to the charts with the leech-like resilience of Philip Phillips’ "Home?" There must be a conspiracy at play (never mind that singles and albums by both Idol and Voice grads are released through Universal Music Group labels). As for the UK X Factor, a singing competition not shown over here, which has seen One Direction, Little Mix, Olly Murs, Cher Lloyd and Leona Lewis make their marks in the Billboard Top 100, that must be magic.
I’m not saying taking part in The Voice is an instant ticket to a career black hole. Chris Mann has squeezed out a little niche for himself in the Josh Groban/Michael Buble market. Cassadee Pope and Rae Lynn have their supporters. But four U.S. and two U.K seasons in, it’s obvious that The Voice has an endgame. And Carson Daly’s right, it’s not success. It’s saving NBC.