Lewis Jacobs/NBC
Ken Tucker
May 25, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Voice

TV Show
Reality TV, Music
run date
Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Hudson
Current Status
In Season

We gave it a C+

When I saw the first episode of The Voice, I thought it was some kind of bad joke. The joke, it turned out, was on me, since this show has become a big hit and an EW staff fave. Still, I giggled at the glitzy set with its swiveling red thrones — one each for coaches Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, and Adam Levine. They chose their vocal ”teams” solely by hearing the contestants’ voices; hence the 180-degree turn the chairs made, so a coach could see whether he or she had picked a vocalist who was ”the whole package.” Soon after its blind auditions, The Voice sabotaged what its title implied: a concentration primarily on vocal talent, not the buffing and polishing of a contestant’s performance style.

Millions of viewers liked what they saw, however. Their expectations were tested when The Voice moved on to its ”battle” rounds, in which each coach pairs up two members of his or her team to sing the same song, and then eliminates one of them, thus winnowing the talent pool for a series of live performances. The boxing-ring set is shiny, but more drab is host (referee?) Carson Daly, reduced to yelling cue-card banalities describing a singer as ”the humble family man at a career crossroads!” for instance. ”Lllllllllllllllet’s get ready to rumble!” that ain’t.

So far, the most impressive coach is Blake Shelton, who’s shown unexpected grit in his critiques. I really admire the way he’s not afraid to take a stand against excessive vocal technique, cautioning a contestant, ”Just because you can do a lotta runs, don’t do it all the time.” As you might expect, Aguilera, who’s never met a note she didn’t want to reproduce many times over, leans the other way, advising one singer to become more ? excessive when singing ”Baba O’Riley.”

Which raises the point: Who chooses the songs? A collusion between the coaches and the producers for what they think will make for maximum showdown drama? Picking that Who chestnut just seems off-key — out of nowhere.

As The Voice has proceeded, I’ve come to like its mishmash of a format. But it remains a clash of downsized titans (I get that Xtina wants to rehab her image, to be viewed as a nice person, but does Cee Lo really think this show enhances his cred?), sitting in the rubble of a set that looks like a Las Vegas casino after an earthquake. C+

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