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NBC is teaming with Mark Burnett and John de Mol to launch a new singing competition program that takes aim at Fox’s American Idol and its upcoming series The X Factor.
The broadcaster has acquired the rights to The Voice of Holland, a format created by reality TV pioneer and media mogul de Mol. Since debuting earlier this year, The Voice has become a top-rated show in the Neatherlands, with one report claiming its 3 million viewers make it the most-watched talent show in Dutch TV history. The Voice has even displaced the Dutch versions of Idol and The X Factor as the country’s top-rated talent competition.
NBC isn’t wasting any time putting its version — titled The Voice of America — on the air. In a very aggressive move, the show will premiere this spring — getting the jump on X Factor (which launches next fall) and potentially even facing Idol head to head.
“It’s a bold move, it shows our confidence,” said NBC’s alternative chief Paul Telegdy of the production schedule. “But we’ve been busy fermenting a move into this genre for quite a few months. We’ve been at a state of DefCon 2.”
Mark Burnett Productions is taking the lead on a U.S. version, with casting already underway. The show’s producer credits read like a reality TV superteam: There’s Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice), de Mol (Big Brother, Fear Factor) and Warner Horizon (The Bachelor), along with Talpa Productions.
The competition’s format is similar to Idol, but even closer to X Factor, with some notable differences from both. The Voice has a panel of four coaches who also have careers as popular performing artists. During the audition rounds, the coaches sit in rotating chairs with their backs to the contestants, so they can only hear the singers, not see them. If they like the performance, they push a button, sending the contestant to the next round and claiming the contestant as one of their students. If more than one coach likes a contestant, the singers gets to choose who will be his/her coach.
“Somebody will show up with all the right moves and look like a star, but their voice is only good, not great, and they don’t get chosen,” Burnett said. “You’re dealing only with your sense of hearing — do you believe this voice is worthy of your commitment? The coaches have skin in the game and will be a part of the careers of these young performers after the show.”
Once the teams are set, coaches will mentor contestants and pit their teams against each other, with viewers voting on the winner. The final performance phase of the competition will air live.
Comparisons to Idol are inevitable (in fact, when former Idol contestant Adam Lambert recently appeared on The Voice, one report called the series “the Dutch version” of Idol). But NBC has already shown it can draw a decent number with a singing competition on its own thanks to its winter series The Sing-Off, where a cappella groups perform.
“Sing-Off gave us enormous confidence that people are embracing quality singing talent when they see it,” Telegdy said.
Still, The Voice joins an increasingly crowded genre. Between Idol, X Factor, America’s Got Talent, Sing-Off and there will be more singing competitions on broadcast than ever before.
What’s surprising is that this sort of proliferation in the genre is coming eight years after the launch of Idol. Then again, perhaps the ratings decline of Fox’s hit, along with its divorce with key judge Simon Cowell, has prompted a sense that there’s some valuable market share up for grabs.
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